Query over cost of council staff in port checks ‘for border some say doesn’t exist’

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The cost of employing environmental health officers (EHOs) at the Port of Larne has been highlighted at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said the projection is that more than £700,000 will be spent within a 12-month period on council staff carrying out post-Brexit checks at Larne Port.

“Certainly that’s a lot of money for a border that some say doesn’t exist,” he remarked.

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Twelve environmental health officers are employed by the council to carry out checks at the port.

Port of Larne. Pic supplied by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.Port of Larne. Pic supplied by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Port of Larne. Pic supplied by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Cllr Gaston asked interim chief executive Valerie Watts: “In light of the ‘Safeguarding the Union’ document, have we received any further correspondence to say that the checks will be scaled down at Larne Port or is it the case that they will be increased going forward in the future?”

The interim chief executive said she had received nothing in light of his question although she suggested a letter may have gone directly to the council’s head of service. She went on to say she would check to enable her to provide him with a “definite answer”.

Very Important

Cllr Gaston continued: “I think it is very important to set the facts from the fiction. This money that is being spent on our EHOs – yes we are getting money back, but it is, for a border that some says doesn’t exist, a considerable amount of money.”

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The interim chief executive stated: “The council recovers full costs for those EHO officers and everything associated with it as well as management overhead, so it is of no cost to this council.”

In August 2020, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council was instructed to employ 12 environmental health officers to carry out food-related inspections at Larne Port post Brexit. The local authority was told to begin the process by the Food Standards Agency following direction issued by Whitehall.

The posts were funded entirely by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). The United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31, 2020.

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Meanwhile, a preliminary notice has been lodged with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council for the construction of three inspection buildings at the Port of Larne.

The application for the site at Redlands Road includes stores, an internal spine road and car parking, boundary fencing, security huts and CCTV.

It says: “The construction of inspection facilities are required to permit Departmental and local authority officials to undertake their statutory duty to carry out sanitary and phytosanitary inspections on agri-food goods and livestock imported into Northern Ireland.

“The new facilities will also enable the delivery of bio-security checks on animal and livestock movements. Larne, in particular, handles livestock movements and checks, ensuring animal welfare and health.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter