Council fees ‘a bigger threat than Brexit’ to seafood exporters

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A high profile Argyll seafood company claims the actions of Argyll and Bute Council could have a bigger impact on the business than Brexit.

And jobs could be at risk after the local authority raised charges for export certificates by more than 500 per cent.

Until April last year, the council levied a fee of £17.50 per consignment for export. This changed with effect from 2018/19 when the fee jumped to £91 per certificate.

Argyll seafood exporters had hoped the matter would be addressed during last week’s council budget meeting, but the issue was never raised.

In fact, with an across-the-board fee increase of three per cent agreed in the budget, the standard charge has now risen to more than £93.

When the Argyllshire Advertiser first broke the story in 2018, one of the region’s biggest exporters, Loch Fyne Oysters, was reluctant to say too much while in discussion with the council – but the company has now spoken out.

A spokesperson for the Cairndow firm said: ‘The council is now demanding payment. Total costs for health certificates for Loch Fyne Oysters have risen from around £4,000 per year to well over £100,000.

‘This is putting jobs at risk. In fact, it is having a worse effect on the business than Brexit.’

The council last year introduced a reduced charge of £18 for consignments under 5kgs, but very few from Loch Fyne Oysters (LFO) are under this weight.

The LFO spokesperson explained: ‘For example, a box of 100 small oysters weighs a minimum of 6.5kgs. So, for 100 oysters, the health certificate now costs more than the oysters.

‘The premium restaurants and venues which Loch Fyne supplies simply will not absorb this extra cost. If the cost of Loch Fyne oysters doubles they will simply seek another supplier. The timing couldn’t be worse since Loch Fyne is already reassuring them over fears Brexit will interrupt supply chains.

‘To add insult to injury, the council doesn’t even do the paperwork. Loch Fyne fills in the certificate from blank forms supplied by Environmental Health.’

In December the Advertiser revealed the pressures on Tarbert-based Lochfyne Langoustines Ltd, which exports shellfish to Far East markets.

Managing director Jamie McMillan said at the time: ‘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.’

An Argyll and Bute spokesperson said: ‘The council has been in discussions with Scotland food and drink and businesses to discuss this situation and recently convened a meeting of local authorities in Scotland with the aim of developing a national charging model for export certificates across Scotland. This work is continuing.

‘Our enforcement policy is to support business and in doing so, to protect public health and safety.

‘We’d like to have maintained fees at their previous low levels but this is, unfortunately, not an option. Our export certificate fee was the lowest in Scotland and did not recover the cost of delivering this service.

‘This is a flat rate certificate and has no add-ons for weekends, late requests or Chinese certificates.’