Don’t scrap seafood taskforce, says SSPO

The working group set up to help Scotland’s seafood businesses mitigate the twin impacts of Brexit and Covid-19 should not be disbanded, according to the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation.

The Scottish Seafood Exports Taskforce was set up as a joint body with representation from the UK and Scottish governments, as well as the seafood industry. Chaired by David Duguid, UK Government Minister for Scotland, its last scheduled meeting took place on Monday 14 June – although it will issue a final report and there are plans to reconvene one more time, in July, to review progress.

However, both the SSPO and Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy in the Scottish Government, believe the group’s work is not done yet.

Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said: “The Taskforce has brought both governments together to deal with the shambles of Brexit. Progress has been made and we thank ministers and officials who have worked to help the export of salmon.

“However salmon exports still use a paper-based system, with higher costs, greater bureaucracy and less absolute certainty over delivery times. We need a fully digital, online export system to replace paper and exporters still lack a set timetable. That is why Mairi Gougeon is right to call for these regular meetings to continue and we support that.”

Scott added: “On supplier declarations, there has been progress but we have asked that as this is a risk based assessment, companies who comply with the requirements can return to the pre 1st January system. We await the government’s help with that. Finally, the shambles over HMRC export figures continues. HMRC appear a law unto themselves. No matter how many times ministers and civil servants tell them to correct their erroneous export figures, HMRC ignore everyone. All exporters would be very grateful if the UK Government sorted this out.”

Mairi Gougeon said: “Through the taskforce, the Scottish Government has highlighted significant issues facing the sector, including the digitisation of export paperwork and the transit of goods from EU vessels.

“Six months on from Brexit and the seafood sector is still trying to work through the red tape and barriers to trade imposed by a damaging and last minute deal.

“At this crucial point, where we are starting to see some hope of recovery there remains a strong need for a forum where ministers from the UK and Scottish governments, and industry, continue working together to minimise the impact of changes to import regulations.”

She said the Taskforce should continue at least until the end of 2021.

David Duguid thanked all those who had contributed to the work of the Taskforce and said: “A tremendous spirit of co-operation has helped us deliver results, for instance on more rapid digitisation of the processes around exporting. The frequency of supplier declarations has been cut back, helping ease the administrative burden on business, and other changes driven by the task force have cut the time required to ready seafood for export.

“We will issue a final report from the taskforce and have agreed to reconvene in six weeks’ time to map out with industry how best to continue our productive two-government engagement.”

He pledged: ‘We plan to keep delivering action-focused engagement and look forward to the sector maximising the opportunities that come from the UK now being an independent coastal state, free of the yoke of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Both the Scottish and UK governments are keen to stress the action they have take so far to help the seafood industry.

The Scottish Government has provided support through the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund to more than 800 vessels and 26 aquaculture businesses impacted by Covid-19 and Brexit.

Funding has also been used to support ports and harbours who have lost landing fees, while welfare advice and Brexit advisers to assist businesses navigate through the new processes have also been made available.

As well as £32m which replaced EU funding, the UK Government introduced a £23m Seafood Disruption Support Scheme. Additionally, Whitehall says, £100m is earmarked for the UK sector to maximise the opportunities “…arising from Britain’s emergence from the EU Common Fisheries Policy as an independent coastal state”.