Councillors hear how 13 consignments of fizzy drinks, spearmint, crab and rice all failed port checks
The Isle of Man Ferry was late coming in to dock as in front was the Viking longboat Draken Harald Hårfagre with a broken mast. As the same gate was used to get to the meeting on the dock we had to wait for the Isle of Man foot passengers to collect their luggage and leave first.
As the councillors and ourselves strode across the dock to the meeting room, the Viking longboat pulled up alongside the meeting room on a sight-seeing tour of the Liverpool docks which almost seemed to give out the message to the politicians of behave otherwise we’ll add you to our list of countries to conquer next.
So, what was the meeting, bobbing along on a floating dock over the beautiful River Mersey about? Well just as the beer ad used to be about “refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” we were reporting on the public meetings other parts of the media don’t reach. In fact I doubt there had been any public along to this public body’s public meetings for a very, very long time. In fact anyone curious enough to read the agenda would’ve been sent to the wrong place as the agenda had “Gate 2” whereas those going to meeting entered through “Gate 3” of the Liverpool Cruise Liner Terminal.
Who were this (and pardon the nautical cliché) motley crew of characters?
Mersey Port Health Committee meeting of the 17th July 2014 Councillor Ron Abbey (Chair) points in the direction of the River Mersey. At the far right are Councillor Dave Mitchell and Councillor Gerry Ellis
Well on the Mersey Port Health Committee was my local councillor, who won our award for scowling before the meeting started Councillor Harry Smith. Also were two former Mayors of Wirral, Councillor Gerry Ellis and Councillor Dave Mitchell who were both friendly. As well as these three there was Councillor Ron Abbey (looking rather stylish in sunglasses).
Apologies were first given for councillors missing from the meeting which included various councillors including Cllr John Salter (Wirral Council’s Cllr John Hale was also absent).
The first decision the crew had to make was to chose a
captain (sorry Chair) for the next year. The previous Chair Councillor Ron Abbey was nominated, seconded and elected. Another Labour councillor called Jeremy Wolfson was elected as Vice-Chair.
Councillor Ron Abbey decided to give his speech about his time as
captain (sorry Chair) over the last twelve months. He said they had had a “varied and very successful year”, that it was a “very friendly committee” but that it was a “Cinderella organisation”.
Cllr Ron Abbey had a new officer to introduce to the assembled throng. Was it a new deck hand? Was it a comedian with the task of making Cllr Harry Smith smile? Sadly the new guy (called Chris) had the rather duller title of team leader for Information Technology.
The Chair continued by saying about the “quality of staff and the work they do on behalf of us”, asked the Committee to endorse his comments and said that these were “most exciting times”.
Due to no microphones and a room the size of a cavern in which sound gets lost, one of the councillors sitting further away (Cllr Gerry Ellis) asked Cllr Ron Abbey to speak up. Cllr Ron Abbey explained that he hadn’t shouted at him as he felt that upset people. Once again this was an error on the agenda which stated “audio equipment provided as standard”.
No declarations of interest were made and the minutes were agreed. So the meeting rolled on to agenda item 5 (Chief Port Health Officer Report on Activities 2013/14).
The Chief Port Health Officer went through the main points of her report, to do with importing foods. They had lost a post which was now vacant but it had been a “very busy year”. There had also been major changes and a redesign of their website.
Chris (the IT guy) talked at length about the changes, so that students could book training courses and so everything could be done a bit quicker as well as updating policies. There had been some teething issues with some applications in the move from Windows XP to Windows 7. He hoped that they’d have a full set of key performance indicators by the September.
The Chief Port Health Officer explained that there had been a 77p reduction in their charges due to EU legislation which was “out of our hands”. Weights of cargo coming through Liverpool docks varied based on consumer demand. They also had a surveillance role at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, as it was not a port approved for the import of food. However the main responsibility at the airport lay with the UK Border Force.
Thirteen consignments of soda (soft drinks) from America had been sampled and found to have excessive levels of benzoic acid. This had been done due to a grant from the Food Standards Agency. In addition to the fizzy drinks failing tests, so had spearmint (pesticide levels), a food supplement (poly aromatic hydrocarbon levels), crab meat (as additional crab species had been found) and basmati rice (that was only 3% basmati rice and 97% other rice).
In addition to this a consignment of chilli powder had been destroyed due to excessive alfatoxin. During the year, 154 consignments had been subject to official checks. There had also been checks done on ship sanitation, water supplies had been sampled and there had been an increase in routine boardings.
Moving to the Wirral, two cockle beds had been declassified and commercial cockling there was now illegal. There had been a report of illegal gathering of mussels, but after investigation and enforcement patrols the activity had ceased.
In order to qualify as an environmental health officers, people needed to do a length BSc (Hons) or a MSc and then do a practical year of training in port health. However they had incorporated the port health side into student’s degrees so that when they qualified they were qualified as both an environmental health officer and port health officer which opened up extra career opportunities.
A port health awareness day had been held in February to promote the work of port health as some external agencies weren’t aware of the work. One hundred and twenty people had turned up to it. It had been a busy year and would be a challenging year ahead, she was happy to answer questions.
Councillor Dave Mitchell referred to it as a “comprehensive report, brilliantly done as always”. He had two questions. In relation to sampling he asked if they had talked with the relevant government department to make it a national rather than local cost?
She explained that it was very difficult but there were provisions. If a sample failed again they could request the importer pays for the cost. Taking the fizzy drinks as an example, if they continued to fail checks then the Food Safety Agency issued guidance and reimb