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Felixstowe remains under fire as complaints keep rolling in

The UK Port of Felixstowe has come under renewed attack for its stance on delays at the facility with the British International Freight Association (BIFA) calling for government intervention in an effort to find a resolution to the chronic congestion that hauliers say is blighting the port.

In a statement late on Friday, 9 October, BIFA called on the government to intervene in the dispute as an arbitrator in an effort to bring the two sides together to find a solution which the freight association says is damaging regional businesses.

Robert Keen, director general at BIFA said, “There is a huge difference of opinion between the port’s users and its management, over the causes of the less than satisfactory operational performance that continues to be experienced at Felixstowe.”

Jason Flower, the chairman of the Flelixstowe Port Users’ Association said that senior management appear to be unaware of the seriousness of problems on the ground. According to Flower, the disruption started as far back as 2018 when Felixstowe introduced a new terminal operating system.

“They don’t seem to have employed enough staff or equipment to handle the volumes of cargo at the port,” explained Flower.

The trouble appears to be the latest vehicle booking system (VBS) which gives permits to drivers delivering or picking up cargo from the port area, as one haulier put it, “Over the last five years there’s never been enough [permits].”

The haulier, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Container News, “We’ve always had to fight with the port to get enough VBS’ to trade,” he added, “We can’t get on or off the port.”

According to hauliers and their representatives said that there are still not as many VBS permits as the pre-Covid-19 period and that Felixstowe management simply ignore complaints or offer excuses such as “there were more than expected volumes”, but hauliers book two to three weeks in advance on the VBS, so the requirements must be known say hauliers.

“BIFA members have suffered from two years of poor service from the port, and we feel that there is a need for independent intervention by government to address the many issues faced by the port’s users,” said Keen, who claims his members have suffered more than two years of poor service.

Hauliers were hoping for some intervention from government, but when Container News contacted local MP Therese Coffey, a representative for the MP said that she “considered the matter a commercial situation,” and would not, therefore be intervening.

In September BIFA had also complained of the chronic congestion problems at the port, and three days later the Port of Felixstowe said that these problems had eased.

However, further ongoing difficulties are now being reported and Container News contacted the Port Authority in an effort to understand what measures the port was taking to remedy the poor service offered to hauliers and other port users. At the time of publication, the Port of Felixstowe had not responded.

Nevertheless, the Port Authority did make an announcement on its website citing changes to the VBS, made necessary by an abuse of the system by drivers who book a large number of slots and then return the bookings just before they are due to be used.

The port statement said, "We are increasing the number of bookings available on both terminals and, to ensure a more equitable and efficient distribution of bookings."

The following changes to VBS will be made from 12 October:

  • All bookings between 11:00 and 19:00 without a container associated with it 4 hours before the time of the booking will be lost and automatically reclaimed by the system; all other hours remain unchanged
  • Reclaimed bookings will be re-released for general use but it will be mandatory to attach container details at the time of booking
  • No Show charges will continue to apply to any bookings made but not used

"We will also be making additional information available via our website to show the number of bookings available, the number taken and the number that went unused at different times of the day."

The port authroity added, "We will review how these changes are working after two weeks and reserve the right to make further changes should that prove necessary."

The full statement can be read here, in the drop-down post at the top of the Port of Felixstowe's website.

Click here for daily data on VBS bookings released and unused

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