THE UK Government has been accused of “throwing the fishing sector on the “scrapheap” with “paltry” schemes to compensate for Brexit losses.
New figures show the £23 million UK-wide Seafood Disruption Support Scheme (SDSS) which promised to cover up to £100,000 of losses for disruption to seafood businesses during January last year paid out just under £380,000 to 31 applicants.
A subsequent scheme – the Seafood Response Fund (SRF) – was also launched by UK ministers. According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), both schemes have now paid out £16 million to 2300 businesses – working out at an average payment of around £7000 per applicant.
In January last year the Scottish fishing industry was plunged into crisis after post-Brexit problems with health checks, IT systems and customs documents caused huge backlogs, leading to delayed and spoiled stock. It was estimated £1 million a day was being lost by Scottish seafood firms.
She said: “Hard-line Brexiteers boasted of the opportunities that leaving the EU would create for fishers. Instead, their sector has been thrown on the scrap heap along with the rest of the UK’s food and drinks industry, treated as expendable in the ideologically-driven pursuit of Brexit.
“If the Tories think that with this paltry fund they’re alleviating the enormous problems they created, their heads are buried in the sand – and it’ll come at the cost of one of Scotland’s most vital exporters.”
The figures provided by Defra show taking into account devolved emergency support schemes, more than £22 million of financial support has been given to seafood businesses affected by both Covid and Brexit.
The Scottish Government said the SDSS – which initially offered only limited support to food exporters and no support to fishing vessels – had been “badly misjudged”.
It said any share of UK spending should be allocated to Holyrood directly to avoid “similar errors of judgement in future” and allow targeted support for businesses affected by a “disastrous Brexit process”.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “In response the Scottish Government launched our own scheme to support Scottish fishing vessels, an approach which, in turn, forced the UK Government to amend the terms of its own scheme to offer support to fishing vessels.
“This demonstrates a worrying and continuing attitude from Defra and UK Government on what support the fishing and marine sectors in Scotland require and, regrettably we can see this applies across nearly all areas in which the UK Government seeks to directly spend in Scotland.”
Jimmy Buchan, CEO of the Scottish Seafood Association, said he hoped the finalisation of a £100m UK Government scheme last month would bring more support for the industry – but pointed it out it was a year on when it was first promised.
He said: “It is great to grab headlines and get the industry to believe in you, but then your deliverance is not in keeping with what the industry expected.
“The money has now been tabled and we just hope business can now draw down on that and get plans into reality.”
The figures on the SDSS were revealed in a House of Commons parliamentary question asked by Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael.
Defra minister Victoria Prentis responded: “In February the scheme received 119 applications across the UK with 31 applicants meeting the criteria for the scheme … the total amount delivered through the scheme was £377,138.11.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Last year we delivered over £22 million of financial support to seafood businesses affected by Covid-19 and new export requirements through UK-wide and devolved emergency schemes. Of that, 2300 eligible businesses have received a share of just under £16 million through the UK-wide SDSS and SRF schemes.
“In addition, the UK Seafood Fund will provide a £100 million funding boost to help industry and coastal communities across the UK.”