Celebrity Peterhead fisherman Jimmy Buchan has made a vocal attack on business rates which are “crippling the fishing industry”.
During a meeting of the North-east Fisheries Development Partnership, Mr Buchan said the rates were blocking crucial growth within the seafood processing sector.
The partnership, which is made up of Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and Moray councils alongside seafish representatives and politicians, was hosted by Peterhead Port Authority within its impressive new multi-million fish market.
After seeing firsthand the investment which had been made at the port, the partenership listened as Mr Buchan, the business manager for the Scottish Seafood Association, launched a scathing attack on business rates.
He said: “These rates are continuing to have a serious impact on the industry.
“I have no doubt that several of our processors will be tabling a loss at the end of the financial year.
“These rates simply do not lend themselves to growth in the sector and I am fed-up to the back teeth of people – including our politicians – who are blaming each other.
“It’s common sense that you should be incentivising companies to grow – don’t simply look upon them as a cash cow to take even more money out of.
“You should be investing in our people and our communities.”
In a joint letter back in February of this year to Derek Mackay, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, the partnership’s chair Councillor John Cox and vice-chair Ian Gatt set out the sector’s case in the North-east of Scotland and sought parity between local processors’ business rates charges and those of Humberside.
They wrote: “Business rates are but the latest significant on-cost for large and medium sized enterprises which have also had to bear the financial burden of the Apprentice Levy, Living Wage and costlier pension provision.
“But the local rates increase – which in some cases also includes the large business supplement – is by far the most significant issue.
“The business rates burden is exarcerbated by sector-specific requirements. Seafood is highly-perishable. Investment in premises and cold stores to maintain quality and comply with food hygiene regulations and accreditation standards invariably results in the assessor setting even higher rateable values.”
The partnership has now asked Kate Forbes MSP, the new Minister for Public Finance and the Digital Economy with responsibility for non-domestic rates, to meet with a delegation from the NESFDP at her earliest convenience.
Mr Buchan told the partnership that the “people in power” needed to start working collectively to start stimulating business in the North-east.
He continued: “There is a sea of opportunity coming – I am utterly convinced of that. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder and make our industry a centre of excellence.”
Meanwhile, Mr Buchan also told the partnership that it was time to “buck the trend” of people saying “if you don’t stick in at school you’ll end up in the fish”.
During a tour of the impressive filleting school within Peterhead Fish Market, Mr Buchan said this mindset was “unacceptable” and said more needed to be done within the education system to encourage more school leavers to consider a career in the industry.
He told the partnership: “I started out in the fish over 40 years ago and I’ve made a very good career out of it.
“We need to free ourselves from the view that this is a second-rate option. We need to get into the schools early to ensure that by the time they are leaving they will consider the fishing industry as a positive career move.”
The training facility at the port is being offered to North-east chefs and restaurants to demonstrate knife-skills and to showcase the wealth of seafood being landed locally.
Prince Charles was impressed with the facility during his recent tour of the fishmarket when he officially opened the new development.