SHIPS using Wisbech and Sutton Bridge ports face increased charges after Fenland District Council was told it must find £1million to top up a ‘black hole’ in the river pilots pension fund.

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Cabinet will be told on Monday that as the statutory harbour authority for the River Nene from Wisbech to the bar Flat Buoy in the Wash, Fenland Council must pay up even though only employee is a member of the Pilots National Pension Fund.

The council is responsible for the safe navigation of ships visiting both Wisbech Port and Port Sutton Bridge and three self employed pilots work this stretch of water.

“Historically the pilots licensed by the council have been members of the Pilots National Pension Fund although only one is currently an active member and there are four pensioner members,” says Rob Bridge, finance director of Fenland Council.

“The costs of these pilots –including contributions to the pension fund where applicable- are recovered through the charges the council levies on ships which use the pilotage service,” he says.

“In this way there is no additional cost to the council tax payer.”

However a recent and lengthy court case has ruled that all authorities which use pilots- where they are self employed or not- must meet a pension fund shortfall of £187million, of which Fenland’s share has been deemed to be £1.048million.

Although pressure is on Fenland to pay up within 10 years it is hopeful a 15 year period – with payments of £100,000 annually- can be agreed.

Mr Bridge says the council will recover the additional annual payment from the charges levied on ships using both ports.

A new level of fees will be discussed by the overview and scrutiny committee on January 31.

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