The Port Health and Public Protection Director to provide an oral update on the latest position.
The Committee received an oral update from the Port Health and Public Protection Director concerning COVID-19 and the UK's impact of leaving the EU (Brexit) on Port Health & Public Protection.
With regards to Brexit, Members were advised that border controls have been pushed back to October for document checks, with physical checks being brought in from January at 1%. The service continues to train new staff, with 25 new staff members recruited, and were well advanced in comparison to other ports which had been challenging during the pandemic.
It was noted that the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC) live animal controls were due to take place from 21 March 2022 and staff were preparing to be resilient.
Officers were still waiting for Defra to respond to a number of questions and provide guidance on a variety of issues that will impact on services, e.g. the service has an underwriting from Defra to 31 Match 2022 but no further clarity beyond that has been received. The process for handling and sealing groupage vehicles required multiple consignments and the City Corporation continued to work with port operators.
The Committee was informed that Sheerness were now proposing to accept high-risk food and feed through their port. This was very late in the process and Officers were currently in discussions with Defra and the port operator about the additional resource and funding. The distance to Sheerness from the main Head Office and staff location made this challenging.
The Port Health Service and Heathrow Animal Reception Centre have continued to operate throughout the various lockdowns and easings. During this time, the Port Health Service has seen a 25% increase in throughput and HARC only had a slight dip in numbers, although this was returning to normal. Officers have also been in the City as required throughout the pandemic and have been ensuring compliance and supporting businesses recover.
Members were informed that Officers continued to raise awareness of the Business Recovery Fund which was linked to the Covid Compliance Accreditation scheme to assist with the confidence of returning customers and a good number of applications had been received.
Officers were also assisting where possible with the evolving Recovery Taskforce Vibrant Offer theme.
With relation to Freeports, meetings with Port Operators are planned in for June and July, and discussions with regards to the potential opportunities with the Investments Property Director were ongoing.
The Chairman thanked the team for their hard work working with businesses noting that 60% of business in the City were now open.
A Member was concerned the City Corporation had missed the boat concerning freeports noting the wider strategic reason to be involved and enquired how this was being coordinated. Officers confirmed they continued to link with the various Corporation teams, plus liaising with the relevant port directors. It was agreed that an update with timescales would be provided at the next meeting.
With regards to the uplift in trade, a Member stated that the increase was attributed to by companies trying to beat the deadline to leave the EU but there was a feeling that businesses were not prepared. Members were informed that trade was never stable or static, with a new displacement of vessels. However, trends still predicted an upward trajectory for the London Port Health Authority. It was agreed that Ports needed to be ready for the January deadline and the Member agreed to feed examples to the Port Health and Public Protection Director.