North Sea Ferries name and jobs go

A COMPANY name that has become synonymous with the Humber region after gracing the seas for nearly 40 years has been scrapped – after P&O North Sea Ferries (P&ONSF) decided on a massive restructuring programme that could cost more than 100 jobs in Hull.

The radical proposals will see the old-established name completely dropped and the company will now work under the single title of P&O Ferries. That will bring an end to the days when the company operated under three different names – P&O Stena Line, P&O European Ferries Portsmouth and P&O North Sea Ferries.

As well as costing jobs, the move will see the end of a logo and name that has been a familiar sight on the North Sea since 1965. The move comes only months after the company spent almost 200m on two new superferries that have revolutionised travel on the North Sea.

All logos will now be painted over, including those on the 60,600 tonne Pride of Hull and Pride of Rotterdam.

The restructuring could mean the loss of some 112 jobs in Hull. Office workers in the city have been told the entire staff could lose their jobs. All office work could now be conducted from one central office, expected to be based in Dover, leaving staff in Hull and Portsmouth without work.

A spokesman for the company confirmed that the restructuring was going ahead, although he said P&O North Sea Ferries would continue to pay the staff's wages.

He said: "We have told the staff which departments are likely to be affected, and the figure of 112 redundancies may not be too far away from the end figure but it's too early to say.

"P&O has now started consultation procedures with employee representatives for the rationalisation of shore based services. Works councils in Belgium, the Netherlands and France were also briefed, as were recognised trades unions in the UK and the Netherlands."

Staff representatives are now meeting management to discuss the impact on jobs. It is hoped some staff will relocate to the new head office in Dover but the majority of employees are not represented by any union.

The overhaul comes after several disappointing years for P&O, in spite of massive investment in new facilities. "An analysis of the financial results of the three companies which are being brought together under this brand shows that the returns over the last three years have been inadequate.

"Consideration has therefore been given to ways in which the returns could be improved building on the opportunity afforded by the P&O Stena Line business becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary and by the synergies from running the three businesses under a single brand."

One of the major problems is said to be the duplication of work at the three offices. The company is now setting up a redundancy committee to examine the fallout from the merging of the three strands of P&O.

The spokesman continued: "P&O's European ferry services to the Continent have faced increasingly difficult trading conditions in recent years. Factors beyond the company's control, such as the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the ending of the duty free regime and increased competition in the North Sea have all had an adverse impact upon its ferry businesses."

P&ONSF, which carries more than 1,000,000 passengers a year, has faced increasing competition for its North Sea ferry services from a range of sources.

DFDS has expanded its Newcastle-Amsterdam and Superfast has opened a Rosyth-Zeebrugge service.

A number of new freight services have been introduced in the North Sea recently such as Stena's Killingholme-Hook (2000), Geest's Teesport-Rotterdam (2001) and Ferryway's Killingholme-Ostend (2002).