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Keeping vital goods flowing into the UK

PwC worked with the Department for Transport to keep vital goods from mainland Europe flowing into UK ports.

Setting the scene

The effects of the COVID-19 lockdown went beyond the UK’s borders and out into the waters around it.

With far fewer passengers than ferry companies had budgeted for, the need to sail as many vessels was reduced. That, however, would have meant a cut in the amount of cargo capacity which could have impacted the ability to import critical goods such as medicines, veterinary products and food .

We were approached by the Department for Transport to be part of the effort to ensure that critical goods from the continent reached UK shores without disruption.

How we helped

Many of the UK’s essential goods are imported via key maritime supply lines, particularly the short straits such as Calais-Dover.

Normally ferry operators run a ‘mixed service’, a blend of passengers and freight, but without the expected passenger traffic, some services became uneconomic and were cut.  There was a risk that further cuts to services would undermine the required capacity needed to import critical goods into the UK.

Our team, drawn from across the business, assessed various operators’ requests for financial assistance, evaluating them against existing government support packages, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. 

We helped the DfT develop and implement an industry-wide mechanism designed to give ferry operators and freight operators an incentive to continue operating key routes. This had to be done while keeping costs to the taxpayer down and minimising disruption to the market.

We developed the principles of the support mechanism, worked with an external law firm to create the financial and commercial aspects of how this would work in practice, and built a financial model that informed decision making. Approvals for all this were needed from the Treasury, which we played a part in securing.

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“This project was implemented much quicker than the projects I normally work on and was much shorter term. There were also few precedents so we couldn't look back on what was done before or elsewhere and had to start everything from scratch.

“I found it very challenging but also very interesting. We had to learn very quickly and work with lots of different people at the client, as well as technical advisors and operators. I was impressed by our ability to work well together as a team, even though we came from different areas within PwC and some of us hadn't met before the lockdown.

“We couldn’t have achieved the impact we did without the quality of people we have at PwC and I was very proud to be part of the team.”

Ruth Foster, Senior manager in PwC’s Corporate Finance Infrastructure and Government team

Making a difference

Going in, the risk was that everyday essentials as well as vital medicines, medical supplies and chemicals and food, for instance, would not be available if ferries did not run.

We helped to mitigate that risk and avoid a cliff-edge scenario.

Based on our work, the government put in place a multimillion-pound subsidy package for essential ferry services between Britain and Northern Ireland and between Britain and mainland Europe.

This made sure that the essential goods we all needed during lockdown were available.

The project was all done via remote working using 12 staff and partners normally based in three separate locations. The team consisted of Infrastructure and Government, Mergers & Acquisitions, Business Restructuring Services, and Strategy& model review specialists.

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Corporate Affairs, PwC United Kingdom

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