The imposition of an “excessive” increase in inspection charges on the Scottish red meat industry by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has been condemned by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) as a thoroughly unjustified move which will damage the whole industry at a crucial time and could place some smaller plants under the threat of closure.
“Despite engaging in emergency talks with FSS officials on this issue, during which we were promised a future charging review, our members are still to have increases of up to 11% in inspection charges imposed on them with immediate effect,” said SAMW president, Frank Clark. “This is unacceptable and belies any thought that the promised review is being approached in the correct manner.”
SAMW subsequently followed its meeting with FSS by writing to Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity at the Scottish Government. The letter, in addition to stating the Association’s concerns, included a request for the Cabinet Secretary’s assistance on the issue as a matter of urgency.
SAMW member companies were first told of the increase in early May with FSS stating that its costs would remain broadly in line with the previous year, according to the charging model and principles developed and agreed jointly by industry and Scottish Government as part of the programme to create FSS. This meant, it was stated, that costs would rise by just 0.5% from the total amount charged in 2016-17.
“In reality, however, the new costs are to be applied to significantly less work than was required in 2016/17,” said Clark. “According to our calculations, FSS is imposing a 0.5% cost rise for 7% less work, a budget move which we believe is adding more than £400,000 of unjustified cost to members’ businesses.”
The president said that the 7% reduction in the FSS workload was due to increased operating efficiencies by SAMW members, a reduction in livestock numbers, the closure of a major poultry processing unit in Scotland and structural changes in poultry meat inspection systems generally.
“The net result is that member companies will end up being charged up to 11% more per hour for red meat inspection,” he added. “In effect, this is an accounting ploy which hides the fact that FSS is imposing an excessive increase on the Scottish red meat chain, largely because it has failed to adjust its own staffing requirements to current demands.
“In addition, to add insult to injury, SAMW’s beef and lamb producing members are also being forced to pick up the bill for FSS’s loss of a poultry inspection requirement at a major Scottish chicken plant. This is nothing to do with the beef and lamb sector and nothing to do with SAMW, whose membership does not include poultry processing plants.
“We are also disgusted that FSS, while accepting the case for a review, is pressing ahead with the new charges. This places some plants at risk of closure, due to the fact that the new costs would outstrip profit margins. The fact that a review might subsequently reverse the cost rise, at least to a degree, will be of no comfort to businesses which have already disappeared.
“Clearly, this would be an unacceptable set of circumstances at the best of times, let alone the high pressure period we are now facing due to Brexit negotiations and the uncertainties created by the UK government election result.
“We will continue to press FSS to put their charging increase on hold until a full and fair review has been carried out.”