More than £1m owed to council by cruise operators

Cruise operators using Liverpool’s terminal have racked up debts of more than £1m to the city council.

As the local authority looks to offload the site it has operated since 2007 amid rising costs, new documents have revealed how it was owed almost £1.5m in outstanding debt by major firms docking in the city. In December it was confirmed Liverpool Council would seek to cut ties with the cruise terminal and hand it over to the private sector given the “extensive costs” required to maintain it.

Cabinet papers discussed earlier this month outlined that following a strategic review, £1.4m has been clawed back from operators by city officials.

The LDRS understands a change has been made to how the local authority invoices operators to simplify how it collects money from liners when they dock in the city. Documents made public by the council said a series of “significant steps” had been taken to reduce the level of debt, with “proactive debt recovery procedures” implemented.

As a result, £1.46m has been recovered by the city council from operators.

A Liverpool Council spokesperson said, “Payments are made through shipping agents rather than cruise lines at the end of the season, but we are working to streamline our payment processes to minimise the time lag between invoicing and payment.

“This is part of a wider financial transformation programme which is helping bring in much-needed additional revenue as part of our improvement journey.”

Two months ago, with financial strain continuing to engulf the local authority, cabinet members agreed the city’s time in charge of the £20m dock and associated infrastructure is to come to an end. Despite what the council describes as a “healthy income” generated from the terminal, “increasingly high uncontrollable costs” mean it will now seek to hand over control to a third party.

Liverpool Council believes surrendering control of the terminal would enable it to avoid “extensive costs” – thought to be around £90m a year – while retraining “existing economic impact for the city of a running cruise ship business, with potential for growth from additional investment, without coming at a cost to the council.” This will include surrendering operations of floating pontoons, linkspan bridges, mooring piles, berthing dolphins, passenger building and other infrastructure such as plant, machinery, equipment and assets.

The council said if plans were not approved, it would likely be required to contribute up to £9m for infrastructure repairs.

Councillor Ruth Bennett, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance and resources, said the reclamation of outstanding monies was vital at a time when “our finances are under a great deal of pressure. She said, “The changes we are making to our systems and processes is starting to make a real difference to our finances.

“We are rolling out new methods enabling businesses and individuals to pay us quickly and easily, which is more convenient for them and is less time-consuming for our staff. It is all part of our improvement journey and is vital to us becoming an organisation that provides efficient services which are value for money.

“In maximising our income, it is also important that we review our fees and charges on a regular basis to benchmark ourselves against other local authorities, and to make sure that people who are receiving discounts on the likes of Council Tax are completely up-to-date. There is no doubt that the changes we have been making over the last six months have put us on a firmer financial footing as we prepare to set our budget for 2024/25.” 

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