A boost is heading to Portsmouth's port with the return of a major contract.
Geest Line has revealed a new five-year deal with a Portsmouth City Council-owned cargo handling firm at the port 18 months after the firm quit for Dover.
Bigger boats used by Geest forced the change in January last year but now changes at council-owned Portico - including a £15m investment of taxpayer cash - means the freight operator’s fleet can return in January.
Bosses have insisted the move is not connected to no-deal Brexit traffic fears at Dover.
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, council leader, said: ‘This strengthens Portsmouth’s reputation for international trade and demonstrates the importance of investing in Portico, so it can provide a return on investment for the city and protect jobs.
‘The wider Solent region will also benefit from Portico’s growth, providing opportunities in the supply chain and also establishes the city’s position as a serious industry competitor.
‘We’re now responsible for handling over 70 per cent of bananas coming into the UK, so the nation depends on Portsmouth to provide one of its favourite five-a-day.’
Geest brings fruit from the Caribbean to Europe, and had left the city after replacing its fleet with five larger ships - boosting its own capacity by 40 per cent.
MMD was not able to give the firm the berths it needed at the times it needed them.
Managing director Captain Peter Dixon said: ‘The port at Dover was able to accommodate us and enabled our business to continue and grow.
‘But changes at Portsmouth mean it can now handle our larger and modified service and it makes sense to return.
‘It has nothing to do with Brexit, but is simply a business decision and we intend to welcome our ships back to Portsmouth from January – two years after we left.’
Council-owned MMD Shipping, since rebranded as Portico, axed 58 jobs in the wake of Geest leaving. It is not thought these will return as changes at the port mean the firm can work more efficiently.
Steve Williams, Portico’s operations director, said: ‘Our partnership with Geest fits perfectly with our business ambitions. It’s about making sure we have long-term, sustainable, agreements, investing in the right equipment and providing the very best for our customers.
‘We have been through a significant restructure so we’re confident we have the right resources in place. Industry has changed, it’s less labour intensive but we now have a modern, efficient and capable team able to handle our customers’ demands.’
(Source: The News Portsmouth)