Portfolio Question Time – 7th March 2018

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
Any delay in transporting fresh food would have a disastrous effect, with whole consignments being lost. What contingencies are being put in place to protect wholesalers and producers who stand to lose those consignments?
Fergus Ewing:
Rhoda Grant is quite right. The export of, for example, shellfish from the Highlands and Islands, which is the area that we both represent, is subject to very tight timelines. The supply to markets in Italy and Spain, for example, has timelines that mean that, if there is a delay of longer than a few hours, the whole consignment becomes valueless.
Therefore, we have done a power of work to try to ensure that drivers have permits to drive in Europe—there is a real problem with that. Also, the aquaculture sector says that the number of export health certificates required would rise from 50,000 to 200,000, at an additional cost of £15 million, which is quite ridiculous. We have worked with local authorities to have a contingency plan for export health certificates, which are dealt with by environmental health officers, to deal with a four-fold increase in workload, and we have undertaken other measures to ensure that information is passed out to all processors, so far as we have it.
There is only so much that the Government can do to mitigate and anticipate without the hard information that we need from the UK Government about the impact of whatever it finally decides to do. It is impossible to fully prevent the enormous damage that will be caused, not least to our inshore fishermen and all those who rely on them.