Scottish seafood firms will be able to claim up to £100,000 in compensation for sales lost due to the Brexit border chaos, the Treasury has confirmed.
Cash will be available immediately and paid retrospectively to cover losses incurred since the end of the transition period, on January 1.
The announcement comes a day after dozens of seafood lorries from all over the UK descended on London to make their anger over export delays known.
Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by new customs checks since the Brexit transition period ended this month.
Industry insiders have estimated the delays are costing the sector more than £1 million a day.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “This £23 million scheme will provide crucial support for fishermen and seafood exporters, who have experienced delays and a lack of demand for fish from the restaurant industry in the UK and Europe.
“We are continuing to work closely with the fishing and aquaculture sectors to make sure that they are supported, and can continue to fish while contributing to the economies of our coastal communities.”
Treasury minister Steve Barclay added: “This further £23 million package of support will help our hardworking fishing sector navigate the challenges of the next few months.
“It is vital that no community nor region within our United Kingdom is left behind as we continue to support British jobs and build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.”
The maximum claim available to individual operators will be £100,000.
Ministers have said more details on eligibility criteria will be available in the coming days.
‘We needed that immediate cash injection’
In addition to funding, the UK Government has also committed to provide further support to businesses in adapting to new export processes.
Defra and HMRC will be offering “targeted, proactive and hands on support” to fisheries exporters to help them successfully meet the new requirements.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, welcomed the announcement.
He told us: “I’m delighted ministers are engaging. We needed that immediate cash injection, as we cannot afford a shutdown, it has a catastrophic effect on everyone.
“We will be scrutinising the details of the scheme to make sure it works for our members, but we want to get back on track as soon as possible.”
It is particularly concerning to see that there is already a cap on claims for individual operators of £100,000.”
Alistair Carmichael MP
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said the cash is “an admission of failure by the government”.
He said: “Compensation is the bare minimum seafood exporters should expect after the shambles they created with Boris Johnson’s weak deal with the EU.
“Businesses will be particularly concerned to know the eligibility criteria for claims. I have already heard from companies that fear that the barrier to compensation will be set so high as to make it impossible to claim.
“It is particularly concerning to see that there is already a cap on claims for individual operators of £100,000. One business in my constituency lost half that on a single consignment so the government needs to be realistic about these losses and how they can be made good.”
‘Step up to the plate’
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross backed the compensation package and called on the Scottish Government to assist exporters.
He said: “This situation has been devastating for our fishermen so I hope this money will be delivered as quickly as possible.
“We must now also see the Scottish Government step up to the plate to resolve issues we are seeing at Larkhall and accept any offer of support from the UK Government.
“Our fishermen want to see Scotland’s two governments working together in order to guarantee the industry a prosperous future.”