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Sheerness jobs under threat from rates bill

UP TO 100 jobs at the port of Sheerness could be under threat, after motor distributor Gefco UK pledged to review operations in the UK in the wake of being hit with a £3m ($5m) retrospective rates bill. The French-owned company brings up to 350,000 Peugeot and Citroen cars a year into Britain, using the Kent port as its main operational base. But automotive logistics director Howard Nash said that it was now having to review its operations as a result of the hefty but unexpected demand. At the root of the problem is a decision taken last year by the Valuation Office Agency, part of HM Revenue & Customs, to impose additional business rates on port companies, backdated to April 2005. Until that point, companies based in ports believed that their rent payment to port landlord included an element covering rates. Sheerness is owned by Peel Ports. Mr Nash told Lloyd’s List: “We are inextricably linked to the motor industry, which is having a bit of a bad time at the moment. Volumes are down are in all cases, so the additional £3m bill was not very welcome.” One option would be to switch some operations to Calais and to use Sheerness simply as a transit point, Mr Nash said. “We have a pretty big operation in Calais. The issue is, we do not pay rates at all in Calais.” HMRC is now thought to be demanding as much as £200m in what it considers to be overdue rates. Port operators believe that this stance could put up to 150,000 jobs at risk and put perhaps as many as 1,600 companies out of business.

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