When Doug Bannister advised his household he can be becoming a member of the Port of Dover as its chief government, weeks earlier than the unique March 2019 Brexit date, his father-in-law voiced what many may need thought: “Are you mad?”

The softly spoken American clearly isn’t one to shrink back from a frightening job, together with taking on at Britain’s busiest port throughout what he calls the “once in a generation” change in the nation’s buying and selling relationship with its closest neighbours.

As negotiations dragged on, Brexit was delayed for one other yr, however when it got here, the change was seismic. “It was such a significant transformation that the nation was going through, and Dover is the epicentre of that activity. And I did sign up for that,” Bannister says.

Even if, on arrival, he was pleasantly shocked at the port’s preparations for Brexit, he by no means might have forecast the different storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Covid repeatedly disrupted visitors on Britain’s busiest trade route, halted most leisure journey for two years, and even saw France close its border in December 2020 to all travellers, together with truck drivers, from England.

The drop-off in visitors put stress on the funds of the port, run by the Dover Harbour Board, which was granted a royal constitution in 1606. It doesn’t have any exterior shareholders, and its “trust port” standing prevented it from tapping traders or going to the capital markets to boost money throughout the pandemic.

Freight visitors has largely returned to pre-Brexit, pre-pandemic ranges at the UK’s most vital “ro-ro” port (so named as a result of automobiles roll on and roll off the ships), Bannister says, though leisure journey has been recovering extra slowly. A 3rd of all the UK’s trade in items with the EU is dealt with by Dover, in keeping with the newest figures from consultancy Oxera, which interprets to a worth of about £144bn. About 10,000 lorries journey by it every day – 31% of all the HGVs that go to UK seaports.


Age 57

Family Married with 4 kids, three of whom stay with him in Kent, whereas his eldest daughter lives in the US.

Education BA in economics at St Lawrence University in New York state; MBA at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Pay Basic wage of £300,000. In 2020 he was paid an extra £122,000 in bonuses, pension contributions and advantages.

Last vacation Devon, final summer season: “It was glorious.”

Best recommendation he’s been given “Go into any change positively.” He believes “an early positive attitude” about change, “combined with early engagement, generally leads to a better outcome”.

Biggest profession mistake “I think I was not a good father to my first daughter. I was spending so much time working and travelling around the world for work that I missed her childhood. I have a very good relationship with her now.”

Word he overuses “I probably use the word ‘wicked’ a lot.”

How he relaxes Spending time along with his kids and in the backyard.

Bannister says he “fell into” his lengthy maritime profession after taking a job with small transport group Trans Freight Lines in the US, following a level in economics. The 57-year-old would go on to work at P&O’s container transport division earlier than it merged with Dutch line Royal Nedlloyd and was subsequently purchased by the Danish large Maersk.

His newest problem has arrived out of a transparent blue sky: as we pulled up outdoors the passenger cruise terminal, an infinite image of it hove into view. P&O Ferries’ hulking Spirit of Britain hasn’t travelled wherever since the firm sacked 800 workers on 17 March. The 213-metre-long ferry, one of the largest working in Europe, would normally solely dock briefly at Dover throughout its 5 day by day spherical journeys between Kent and northern France.

“We were looking forward to increasing passenger trade as Covid travel restrictions eased off, and so it is going to be difficult to handle that having the P&O ferries off the route. We hope they get them back sailing again in time for Easter, if not in time for the summer,” Bannister says.

While P&O Ferries’ ships stay tied up, rival operators have scrambled to take additional passengers, with the port serving to coordinate. Despite this, Bannister seems reluctant to cross judgment on the agency – whose chief government successfully admitted breaching employment law by dismissing his workers with out discover – or on the wider situation of charges of pay for worldwide seafarers.

Assessing wages for crew shouldn’t be at all times simple as “frequently international seafarers don’t pay any income taxes, because they are not a part of any particular nation,” Bannister says. “Some routes are different, like domestic routes like the Isle of Wight or maybe up in the Scottish islands. It’s not necessarily a straight apples for apples comparison, but I do think it is right that people should get paid for the work that they do in the best way that they can be.”

Even earlier than the P&O scandal, port traffic had been repeatedly disrupted throughout the first weeks of the yr, together with by the introduction of new EU import controls, elevated freight visitors, roadworks and a discount in ferry companies as vessels had been refitted.

Traffic was flowing freely on the day the Observer visited, and there was no sign of the queue of lorries incessantly seen snaking up the A20 highway, which winds right down to the coast. Bannister believes that is partly attributable to merchants and hauliers getting used to new necessities, which embrace time-consuming passport and paperwork checks.

He concedes a consequence of Brexit is longer processing instances at the border. “There will be improvements which are made. People will get slicker at reading passports, get slicker at lodging paperwork and checking paperwork. But we are in a different trading regime.”

An impending change, which might once more result in queues at the port, can be weighing on Bannister’s thoughts. In September, the EU intends to introduce airport-style biometric checks at its exterior borders. This would have an effect on Dover as a result of of “juxtaposed controls”, the place travellers clear French entry necessities earlier than leaving the UK, and he has known as on the British authorities to work with the EU on an answer.

Close up of a modern ferry’s superstructure with the P&O flag visible on the funnel. In the background another ferry is making its way out to sea, in a haze
The Spirit of Britain (foreground) moored at Dover in the wake of the P&O scandal. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

“To date, no process has been identified for a carload of people transiting a busy ferry terminal on a dark stormy night,” he says. “It would force people to exit their vehicles in busy moving traffic, which would be dangerous. We couldn’t allow that to happen.”

Over the centuries, Dover has capitalised on its “geographic advantage” of being situated simply 22 miles throughout the Channel from France. Bannister is satisfied the current bounceback in trade highlights the success of the “short straits”: the shortest distance between the UK and the continent. “The market has chosen,” he says. “We have three different ferry operators operating from the port, two ports in France to go to, and then the Eurotunnel running alongside us.”

Bannister’s profession has taken him on a circumnavigation of the globe from his dwelling state of New Jersey to the island of Jersey – the place he ran the airport and harbours – by way of Rotterdam, Australia (his favorite place to stay and work) and New Zealand. Now, he clearly will get a kick out of working for an organisation as wealthy in historical past as this one, regardless of the different challenges since he took up the function in Dover.

“It’d be nice if there were a few less disruptions,” he says. “This business has been around for 400 years; it’s got incredible heritage. It’ll be here for another 400 years.”

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