© Provided by The GuardianPhotograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Chris Grayling, the former transport secretary who awarded a lucrative ferry contract to a firm that had no ferries, has been given a £100,000 job advising the owner of some of the UK's top ports, it has emerged.
The MP for Epsom & Ewell has been hired to give advice to Hutchison Ports, which operates Harwich and Felixstowe among other terminals.
According to the MPs' register of financial interests, he will be paid for seven hours work a week for a year. The appointment has been approved by a Whitehall watchdog despite it raising concerns of a "perceived risk" that it may give the firm an unfair advantage.
Grayling stepped down as transport secretary when Boris Johnson became PM in July 2019, having served under his predecessor Theresa May for three years.
He was criticised for awarding a contract to a group of ferry operators to provide extra capacity after the UK left the EU - one of which had never sailed a vessel.
Concerns were raised about Seaborne Freight, which was awarded a £13.8m contract in 2018 to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend if the UK left the EU without a deal. The firm had no ferries and no trading history.
It was one of three agreements worth a total of £107.7m signed by the government without a tendering process to help ease "severe congestion" at Dover by securing extra lorry capacity.
The contracts, which Grayling described as an insurance policy, were later cancelled. The National Audit Office estimated that the costs incurred to the taxpayer could be as high as £56.6m.
Grayling has been criticised for implementing a number of policies while in cabinet.
When justice secretary, Grayling was condemned for his decision to part-privatise the probation service, which ended up costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds, attempting to cut legal aid to prisoners, and a £6m contract to train prison staff in Saudi Arabia despite its appalling human rights record.
He was also criticised for awarding a contract to Carillion to run prison maintenance when it was clear the firm was about to collapse.
More recently, Johnson sought to install Grayling as chair of the powerful Commons intelligence and security committee in July. MPs on the committee voted to back his colleague Julian Lewis instead. Grayling has resigned from the committee.
The MP is the latest former cabinet minister to get a lucrative job in the private sector while remaining in the Commons. The former chancellor Sajid Javid having recently been signed up as adviser by investment bank JP Morgan.
Philip Hammond, May's chancellor who was elevated to the House of Lords last month, has taken on 11 paid positions including advising the Kuwait Investment Office, and giving "urgent advice" to Mohammed Al-Jadaan, the finance minister of Saudi Arabia.
The advisory committee on business appointments said Grayling had reassured them he would not be advising Hutchison Ports on its commercial maritime activities or risks and opportunities associated with Brexit.
The body, which has been criticised for failing to clamp down on the revolving door from parliament to the private sector, said the role would be limited to advising the firm on its environmental strategy and its engagement with local enterprise bodies.
It said the MP must comply with these and other conditions, including a ban on him lobbying ministers on behalf of the company or giving advice on UK government tenders, until July 2021, two years after he left the cabinet.