Bosses at one of Scotland’s oldest smokehouses have accused the UK Government of “gross incompetence” in a furore over post-Brexit exports of Scottish seafood.
John Ross Jr (Aberdeen), whose brick kilns have been used to process salmon since 1857, has been unable to get its produce to mainland Europe.
The royal warrant holder and two-time Queen’s Award winner has had perishable goods stuck in transit for nearly a week.
Meanwhile, the governments in Edinburgh and London are blaming each other for a log-jam of seafood lorries – due to red tape – at an export distribution hub in Larkhall, Lanarkshire.
IT problems on both sides of the Channel are also delaying Scottish exports to key markets in Europe.
In a letter to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, John Ross sales director Victoria Leigh-Pearson, whose family has run the smokehouse since 1987, said: “Recent months have been the hardest since we first opened our doors – not because of the inevitable bureaucracy associated with Brexit, which we expected and accepted, but because we have had to endure the government issuing a barrage of useless information, none of which has added any clarity or value to businesses such as ours.
“There has been an absence of factually correct information from all government agencies.
“A five bullet-pointed letter highlighting the broad themes to address in the context of Brexit and the offer of transition webinars do not go far enough to help those of us facing major complications and barriers to trading.
“It’s also worth noting that this letter was issued in November,
less than two months before businesses were expected to have everything in place.”
The advice on offer has fallen woefully short when it comes to one of the most important commercial issues of our time.”
John Ross sales director Victoria Leigh-Pearson
She added: “John Ross has spent years conducting practice runs with hauliers, drafting post-Brexit documentation in readiness for 2021, and recruiting the services of specialists including French lawyers to support our continued trade with the EU.
“We have been commended… within our sector for being ahead of the curve. Yet, being ahead of the curve is of no benefit if the government continually changes the shape of its arc, misinforming businesses such as ours along the way.
“The advice on offer has fallen woefully short when it comes to one of the most important commercial issues of our time. The level of support the government has provided to businesses – certainly ours, at least – amounts to gross incompetence.
“Your department has had four years to lay the foundations for a smooth and seamless transition, so why are so many exporters facing a commercial crisis right now?
“Our customers, and those of other businesses across multiple sectors, are upset – and rightly so.
“Delays are costing them money and us our reputation. Many producers are now even questioning the viability of their export programme.
It feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a life jacket.”
“As I write, perishable goods that were dispatched from our facility five days ago, headed for France – following a process that your department advised – have still not crossed the border.
“Today, we’ve even had confirmation that the IT systems of the
UK and France are incompatible.
“What is the government doing to address these issues? It feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a life jacket.”
Aberdeen South SNP MP Stephen Flynn said: “The UK Government told us that they were prepared for their damaging Brexit but this letter, which paints the reality of the situation facing a key employer in Aberdeen, drives a coach and horse through these claims.
“The fact that an export process that previously took just 24 hours is now taking in excess of five days is beyond absurd and will be causing untold damage.
“I have written to the UK Government demanding that they resolve these issues and provide the compensation that businesses like John Ross Jr deserve – they should not lose out due to the inadequacy of the government.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the industry to help understand and address the issues they are experiencing.
“This includes ensuring that the UK and French systems are functioning properly to allow for quick and easy processing of information.
“We are contacting exporters, their representatives and transporters to help them understand the requirements to keep their goods moving.
“It is vital that exporters check they have entered in details correctly and ensure that they have provided the transporter of the goods with the correct documentation.”
The spokesperson added: “We urge the Scottish Government to ensure they have appropriate staffing levels in place at hubs in their area to certify documentation and ensure there are no delays to food exports.
“We have given the Scottish Government nearly £200 million to prepare for leaving the EU, to minimise disruption and guarantee business readiness.”
Scotland Office Minister David Duguid said: “The Scottish Government has persistently refused to accept the democratic vote to leave the EU, but that does not allow them to abdicate their responsibilities to Scottish businesses.
“Over the past 18 months they have assured the fishing industry that the systems they were putting in place would be adequate. They clearly are not.
“The Scottish Government needs to do all it can to support the industry navigate the new systems.
“I have been in regular contact with industry, doing all I can to support. The Scottish Government needs to do the same.”