SCOTLAND’S seafood processing sector is challenging ministers to help remove a series of blockages that stand in the way of its modernisation and development.
The Scottish Seafood Association (SSA), which represents 81 small, medium and large processors, up from 67 just 18 months ago, has identified a range of issues which are holding the sector back.
During a ‘constructive’ meeting this week with the Scottish minister for public finance and digital economy, Kate Forbes, at Nolan Seafoods in Aberdeen, SSA executive officer Jimmy Buchan highlighted several key issues.
First was the need to extend the Scottish government’s current proposed window of 12 months for business rates exemptions.
Also, the industry wants government to explore the reclassification of premises from industrial buildings to food production units to reduce business rates.
And it stressed the importance of a level playing field for large and small companies when it comes to State Aid.
‘We had a very constructive meeting with the minister, who is genuinely willing to help and recognises the rather unique situation and needs of the sector,’ said Buchan.
‘Ministers have agreed to support focused management to help steer the industry towards a profitable future through innovation and the identification of potential efficiencies.
‘For that, we are very grateful. However, more work needs to be done and quickly to allow our members to expand and prevent greater volumes of fish being trucked directly for processing in other parts of the UK.’
Buchan said the proposed year-long business rate exemption was too short.
‘For processing businesses to have the confidence to invest in new builds or extensions, three to five years on a sliding scale would be more realistic given the variations in the availability of raw materials caused by fluctuating TACs (total allowable catches).
‘As for classification, these are not industrial buildings, they are bespoke food production units and should be recognised as such.
‘It is possible that this would significantly change the rateable values of the properties for the better.
‘And the de minimis rules on State Aid need to be relaxed because they are restricting the large businesses in particular, which have a big impact on local economies in terms of jobs and procurement of raw materials.’
Picture: Michael and Francis Clark, directors of Nolan Seafoods, minister Kate Forbes, and Jimmy Buchan, executive officer of the Scottish Seafood Association