The trade association for UK freight forwarders has expressed its surprise at the recent report in the Times newspaper that the UK Government is planning to invest £8 million in customs training and automation to support the extra demand for customs brokerage services in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal in March 2019.
British International Freight Association (BIFA) director general Robert Keen says that in light of the significance of such news on the work undertaken by BIFA member companies, he was surprised that they have learned about it from a national newspaper, rather than through an official announcement.
“BIFA has had many meetings with both HM Treasury and HMRC in which we highlighted our concerns regarding the capability of the Customs brokerage sector to increase capacity.
“We have explained that the sector already faces a massive shortage of staff of suitable quality.
“We have emphasised that it could take up to a year to train staff to be fully conversant to prepare a range of basic Customs declarations, even if there was a sufficient number of trainers to train those staff, as well as relevant courses for them to attend.
“The impending introduction of the Customs Declaration Service will only compound the problem as the sector would be retraining staff to move from the current system (CHIEF) to CDS, as well as potential new entrants that would be needed to process entries in the event of no trade deal being agreed by March 2019.
“Assuming that the article in the Times is accurate, we now need the Government to provide us with much greater detail on the nature of this investment. How to access the funding? How long the funding will be available?. What it will cover? Who qualifies?”
In late August, when the UK government supplied information to businesses on trading with the EU if there is no deal, BIFA said that as most of the visible trade that takes place between the EU and the UK is managed by freight forwarders and logistics professionals on behalf of traders, some of the content of the information could be considered rather patronising as those freight forwarders are already aware of many of the issues of concern to businesses trading with the EU in the event of no deal.
“To see the latest news about Government plans for Customs revealed through the columns of a national newspaper, just adds insult to injury,” Keen concluded.