THE Brexit shambles that has halted as much as half of Scottish seafood exports since January 1 is just the tip of the iceberg with fears the longer term supply chains that are essential to the country’s food and drink industry are being irreparably damaged.
Claims of customs agents being overwhelmed, unprepared checkpoints and incompatible IT systems on top of a process that was outlined just six hours before it was introduced have contributed to widespread disruption for all exporters.
The seafood industry is being described as the “canary in the coalmine” as its need for taking produce to market swiftly is closely watched.
In part one of our special series on the Business of Brexit, the extent of the problems being caused is highlighted.
Seafood exports have been held up, checks are ‘excessive’, shelves are empty in Bangor, Co. Down, and a third of the Scottish fleet is tied up in harbour. Images: Getty/PA.
Haulage firms are said to be struggling with groupage – or multiple – loads from smaller businesses because of the level of red tape, and business representatives are in talks with the UK Government for cash aid for those affected.
The direct impact so far includes the seafood industry losing £1 million worth of exports a day and a third of the Scottish fishing fleet is tied up in harbour while the other two thirds try to sell fish at 40 per cent the normal market price.
Food and drink sector leaders and hauliers are calling on the UK Government to implement a lighter touch policy as systems bed in, warning “supply chains are on the verge of collapse” without action.
Industry organisations Food and Drink Federation Scotland and Scotland Food and Drink are pushing Westminster to step in try to ease the burden placed on business.
Brexit: ‘EU shut’ exporters say
David Thomson, FDF Scotland chief executive, said: “Our biggest concern is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. A big worry is that freight volumes are currently down and it is not just a January lull.
“People have been essentially avoiding exporting in order to see how it all settles out.
“The people who can’t avoid exports, in particular the fresh seafood guys, are the people who are experiencing the issues that we can see just now.”
Jamie McMillan, of Tarbert-based Loch Fyne Langoustines and Loch Fyne Seafarms, said businesses are fighting for survival.
He said: It is getting worse. It is unbelievable the situation we are in here, we can’t get any product to the EU whatsoever.
“The fishing industry is being made a fool of by the Westminster government. I’m dismayed, I’m angry, my blood is boiling. There’s families’ fishing boats tied up and we can’t get our product to the EU market because of red tape, extra paperwork.
“Prime Minister and Michael Gove I can assure you if Scottish exporters can’t get their product to market next week we will be at the gates of Westminster and we will be dumping our shellfish on your doorstep rotten.”
My constituent Jamie of @LochfyneLangous expressing fury not only at the disaster of #Brexit but also at the callous , flippant rubbish from @BorisJohnson at #PMQs . @FergusEwingMSP has today demanded compensation for the fishing sector – urgent U.K. response needed now. https://t.co/h9SC8gsP4W
— Michael Russell (@Feorlean) January 13, 2021
He said: “We are getting intelligence that the customs agents that are there are overwhelmed, not taking on new work and struggling to deal with the backlog, and that’s not just for seafood that is for everyone.
“We are also finding that hauliers are increasingly reluctant to take loads to Europe or Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland because it is so complicated, it might mean their trucks are stuck for days, and so firms are finding it harder to find hauliers to actually take their load let alone to deal with the paperwork. That is something we are likely to see a crescendo in over the next couple of weeks as well.”
John Davidson, of FDS, said: “Our seafood exports have been badly affected. What we’ve seen since January 1 is quite chaotic scenes trying to move a product which we have done for the last 40 years over the border.
“To put it into perspective, normally there is about £2m worth of seafood going to France a day at this time of year. We estimate that only about £1m is making it.”
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He said another important issue emerging this week is groupage, where a different consignments from smaller suppliers go on one lorry to different customers. “The haulage companies don’t want to stop, but it is proving too difficult for them, with the complexity of the checks and the risk with the load.
“This is causing massive problems for small and medium-sized companies in Scotland.”
Martin Reid, of the Road Haulage Association, said paperwork that would previously take half an hour for a lorry load is now taking five to six hours. “Once people get used to it that might drop to two to three hours,” he said. “But that gives you some ideal of the new time constraints from simply moving goods.”
“It is imperative that goods that move through groupage are allowed to move, so, however they resolve it, it needs resolution.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We are aware there have been some issues as we adapt to the new processes and we are working closely with businesses and individual sectors to resolve them.”
Overseas food and drink exports from Scotland are worth £6 billion, a rise of £570 million (11%) compared to 2016 and up £2.5 billion (70%) from 2007, said SFD.
Tomorrow in Part Two: Brexit “slow-motion car crash” for Scottish firms in weeks and months ahead.