Staff shortages and an estimated twelve-fold increase in the number of import checks could mean significant disruption and delays at the Port of Liverpool later this year, it’s claimed.
Liverpool councillors have been warned that the Mersey Port Health Authority faces a significant increase in workload due to new rules and regulations governing sanitation checks on food and other products coming into the region after Brexit.
According to the Liverpool Echo, the number of employees at the authority in charge of carrying out checks on food and other products needs to more than double from 15 to 34.
But significant demand for similarly skilled staff across the country, as well as the specific skillset required, is leading to a struggle to recruit them in time.
A report submitted to the Mersey Port Health Committee said that if staff were not recruited and trained before the introduction of more checks in a few months time then the port’s operations could be significantly impacted.
The report said: “There will be extended imported food clearance times, slower turnaround times of containers being inspected and released. This could have a major impact on the future growth of the Port of Liverpool causing significant delays at the Port.
“In addition to this, there will be an increased risk of potential legal and financial claims against the Authority and a ultimately a potential loss of the ports “Authorised” status.”
Original estimates of the number of checks required annually on products of animal origin after the introduction of new regulations has been increased by DEFRA from 23,000 to 24,500.
Last year, Mersey Port Health undertook 1,946 of the equivalent inspections.
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Some changes to rules around sanitation checks did come into force at the start of 2021 but Mercola Douglas, chief port health officer, said the most significant would happen in April and July.
Speaking at a public meeting last week, Ms Douglas said finding staff who already had all the necessary experience was “like finding a needle in a haystack”.
She said: “Certainly, in my career at Mersey Port Health, we’ve never employed an environmental health officer as a port health officer that already had that relevant experience. We have always had to provide the training for them.
“The skills that are required vary. It starts off from a port control officer and goes right up to an official veterinary surgeon.
“The higher skilled staff that are required are specific. We need to have those specific skills and the role cannot be undertaken by anyone else.”
She said she faced significant competition for staff from other government agencies like Border Force, as well as private companies.
The pandemic has also increased demand for the skills and qualifications that port health officers possess.
The warnings come as ports and hauliers adjust to other new regulations that have come into force since the start of the year.
Northern Irish business leaders told MPs earlier this month that there had been “significant problems” surrounding the new trade border in the Irish Sea.
Some companies said they have started to limit the products they sell in Northern Ireland as a result.