P&O Ferries must repay £11m furlough money and change chief executive, Grant Shapps demands

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said P&O Ferries needs to repay £11m it received in furlough money and replace chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite after the company sacked 800 seafarers without notice.

The company was widely condemned after replacing 786 crew members with cheaper agency staff on March 17.

Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite told a joint hearing of the Commons’ business and transport committees later that month that P&O Ferries broke the law by not consulting with trade unions before implementing the decision. He has rejected calls to resign.

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But addressing a meeting of the Transport Select Committee this morning, Mr Shapps said that it is “completely unsustainable” that P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite remains in position after nearly 800 seafarers were sacked without notice.

Grant Shapps says P&O Ferries needs to take three key steps to rebuild public trust - including getting rid of its current chief executive.

Mr Shapps told the committee “he will have to go”.

The Cabinet minister also urged P&O Ferries to repay £11 million of furlough money, and said “they will have to pay the minimum wage” to crews.

When asked by committee chair Huw Merriman whether the company has "got away" with its actions, Mr Shapps said "No".

"There are three things P&O need to do to get out of this mess and I call on them today publicly to get on and do it," Mr Shapps said.

"First of all, it's completely unsustainable to have the head of P&O Peter Hebblethwaite, who came to a committee room like this and openly and deliberately explained how he sought to break the law.

"He actually said that was his intention, and that he would do it again, to remain in the post of leading that company. He will have to go.

"Secondly, in my view, though it's a matter for P&O themselves, I think that they need to repay their furlough money as well.

"I think it is around £11m.

"I don't think it's right that having claimed that money they then sacked the workers in such a premeditated way which they themselves have admitted.

"Thirdly, they will have to pay the minimum wage and on May 10 in the Queen's Speech as promised, we will ensure that we are legislating to make sure that minimum wage is required for routes which generally plough that trade between here in France or here in Holland or regularly back and forth in all our waters.

"So they have no choice - they are going to have to pay the proper wage for the job, the minimum wage for the for the job and I think until they do those three things they won't find their way back into certainly the affections of the travelling public or probably those who use them for freight."

His comments come as P&O Ferries resumed cross-Channel sailings for the first time since the sackings.

The vessel Spirit of Britain departed Dover for Calais shortly after 11pm on Tuesday carrying freight customers.

Passenger services are expected to resume early next week.

Earlier in the day another P&O Ferries ship, European Causeway, was adrift five miles off the coast of Northern Ireland for more than an hour on Tuesday afternoon after losing power.

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