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Christmas cheer is in short supply for seafood firms after Argyll and Bute Council upped up the cost of paperwork by more than 500 per cent.
Producers have been left stunned by the unannounced increase in fees for a certificate needed before exporting Argyll seafood around the world.
Until the spring, the council levied a fee of £17.50 per consignment for export. This changed with effect from 2018/19, and officials are now asking £91 per certificate.
The move, according to Argyll companies, has left them facing large bills that could endanger the viability of some firms. And vital jobs in vulnerable rural areas are also said to be at risk.
Tarbert-based Lochfyne Langoustines Ltd exports shellfish to Far East markets. Managing director Jamie McMillan said: ‘We regularly send five consignments a week to Asia amounting to three or four tonnes.
‘With the uncertainty of Brexit along with other problems we face as an industry, the extra £30,000 a year would cripple us.
‘The choice for us is either to pay up or stop exporting to the Far East, in which case I reckon it will be two to three months before the company folds.’
The company employs 25 people in shore-based jobs in Tarbert, along with another 12 at sea.
An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: ‘Our enforcement policy is to support business and, in doing so, to protect public health and safety.
‘Our export certificate fee was the lowest in Scotland and did not recover the cost of delivering this service. Year-on-year cuts to our service mean that, like all councils, we must make changes to how we work so we meet our statutory duties.’
The spokesperson added the council had ‘listened to businesses’ and introduced an £18 certificate for quantities less than 5kg. This, however, is dismissed as ‘irrelevant’ by commercial firms who believe any benefit is lost in transport costs.
The Clyde Fishermen’s Association (CFA) is pressing for a national, online, 24/7 access system for export of food/fish certificates.
CFA executive secretary Elaine Whyte added: ‘We understand the local authority is keen to make a decent revenue from the service, but our concern is they may in fact stifle the local businesses which currently pay into the system.’
Another firm affected on a large scale by the price hike is Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd. Managing director Cameron Brown commented: ‘We are currently engaged in discussions with Argyll and Bute Council regarding the sudden increase in export charges, which is a concern.
‘We hope this issue can be resolved with a fairer system for rural businesses in these times of economic uncertainty.’
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has been involved in discussions with the industry over this issue and told the Advertiser: ‘The council should not have raised the charge unilaterally and so steeply.
‘Given the difficulty that faces shellfish and seafood producers as a result of the uncertainties of Brexit, they didn’t need this added burden and they should reduce the charges again a – perhaps not back to the original but much closer to it.’
Councillor Anne Horn represents the Tarbert area and has taken up the industry’s concerns with council officers.
She said: ‘There was some small concession but unfortunately this was not effective in reducing the costs for export on a larger scale. I will continue to speak with officers to seek some solution, as I do appreciate the costs are prohibitive for companies to maintain their sustainability.’