The long line of mishaps for ‘Failing Grayling’

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has presided over a long line of mishaps during his six-and-a-half years in the Cabinet.

In recent weeks, Mr Grayling's decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million to run services between Ramsgate and Ostend - despite having no ships - attracted widespread criticism.

The Department for Transport's (DfT) decision was challenged by Eurotunnel, and on Friday the Government announced it had reached an agreement worth up to £33 million with the Channel Tunnel firm.

Dubbed "Failing Grayling" for the numerous controversies to have played out under his watch, the 56-year-old has been a gift to parliamentary sketch writers.

His April Fool's Day birth date doesn't help matters.

Despite repeatedly being forced to deflect calls to resign, Mr Grayling has ploughed on through several serious headaches since taking the helm of the Department for Transport in July 2016.

'Britain can deliver', but can Chris Grayling? Credit: PA
  • The Seaborne Freight saga

Under Grayling's supervision, the Department for Transport awarded Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million to put on ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend, but the company had no ships and took its terms and conditions from a takeaway menu.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the deal was later axed.

But that wasn't the end of it.

The Department's decision was challenged by Eurotunnel, and on Friday the Government announced it had reached an agreement worth up to £33 million with the Channel Tunnel firm, taking the sum from taxpayer funds.

Ramsgate Port, where ferries were due to leave from under the axed deal. Credit: PA
  • Problematic probation reform fails as justice secretary

Major reforms to the probation services Mr Grayling implemented during the first year of his tenure as justice minister between September 2012 and May 2015, led to “skyrocketing” numbers of released offenders returning to prison for breaching their licence conditions after serving short sentences.

At the time, the ministry was accused of "setting itself up to fail," by the National Audit Office.

Decisions Mr Grayling made to introduce new fees for employment tribunals, banning people from sending books to prisoners, bringing forward court fees - which led to warnings innocent people may be forced to plead guilty - were all overturned.

The minister was also criticised for a decision to bring in restrictions on legal aid for domestic violence victims, cutting legal funding for prisoners, and setting up a body which won a £6 million contract to train prison staff in Saudi Arabia.

Several decisions Chris Grayling made as justice secretary were overturned. Credit: PA
  • Railway timetable collapse

As Transport Secretary, Mr Grayling faced a vote of no confidence – but survived – over Northern Rail’s chaotic timetable collapse in June.

He had rejected calls for Northern to be renationalised, although he accepted the situation experienced by passengers was "unacceptable".

In a later appearance before the Commons Transport Select Committee, he raised eyebrows by insisting: "I don’t run the railways," and instead blamed Network Rail.

Northern Rail has been mired with timetables problems, causing disruption to passengers. Credit: PA
  • Qatar visit at time of rail fare rise

Mr Grayling came under fire for taking a trip to Qatar when the biggest rail fare rises for five years were announced in January 2018.

Labour said his travel abroad "smacked of a man running scared," but Mr Grayling insisted he had not "shirked the issue", – although he admitted fares were "higher than I would wish".

Chris Grayling was criticised for a trip to Qatar when a rail fare hike was announced. Credit: PA
  • East coast rail route failure

The Transport Secretary was forced to bring the East Coast Main Line back under public control last May after an agreement with Virgin Trains East Coast hit the buffers five years earlier than originally timetabled.

Mr Grayling said the companies behind the deal, Stagecoach and Virgin, "got their bid wrong", in terms of revenue from the franchise, which was originally due to run until 2023.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said Mr Grayling had "gifted" Stagecoach and Virgin, which took over in 2015, a "£2 billion bailout" after the failure.

He then faced issues with Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern.

A report by the Government spending watchdog last year found value for money was not being achieved by the UK’s largest rail franchise.

Passengers suffered the worst disruption on the network since services began in September 2014, the National Audit Office said.

Mr Grayling was forced to bring the East Coast Main Line back under public control. Credit: Joel Ryan/PA

A long-running dispute over driver-only trains between Southern and unions saw passengers in the South East endure years of misery with repeated strikes and disrupted services.

The National Audit Office found Department for Transport decisions "negatively impacted on passengers," with industrial action making matters worse.

  • Hassle over Heathrow

Mr Grayling has faced a legal backlash over his decisions around Heathrow Airport. Credit: PA

Away from the railways, opponents of the Government’s backing of a third runway at Heathrow have been critical of the DfT’s handling of the long-running process that resulted in the west London airport being picked over other contenders.

A group of councils, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Greenpeace have launched a legal challenge against the decision.

They have formally notified Mr Grayling of their intention to seek a judicial review.