UK logistics industry pleads for help to get ready for Brexit

News from Brussels

Source: Politico, 2020-09-04

Eight logistics industry groups have written to U.K. Cabinet Minister Michael Gove asking for help to prevent chaos at the British borders after the Brexit transition.

In the letter, coordinated by the Road Haulage Association, the industry asks for an urgent roundtable with Gove, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to address the “significant gaps” in preparedness for the end of the transition period in December.

“We are asking you to take seriously our concerns and listen to the detail during this roundtable so that we can collectively help government manage through this enormous challenge with as little disruption as possible,” they write.

Speaking on the BBC's "Today" program, Shapps rejected any suggested that he wasn't listening to industry. “People like the Road Haulage Association, I have very, very regular contact with ... Of course there are changes that will come at the end of the transition period.”

“In a sense you can always look into a crystal ball and there will always be concerns about what if this happens, what if that happens. Our job is to work with people like the hauliers to make sure we have the best systems possible in place,” he added.

One major source of concern is the Smart Freight System, a new web-based portal that the government wants British truckers to use for roll-on/roll-off freight traveling to the EU. The Department for Transport sought views on the service as part of a consultation that closed on August 23. On 1 September, the government said it would publish a summary of the responses within the next three months, and will talk to businesses about the design and user testing of the service, with a view to launch it before January 1, 2021.

Truckers will be required to submit details of the HGV being used to transport goods to a particular port in advance of the journey. But the logistics industry says they don’t have enough time to learn how to use it before the transition finishes on December 31 and requested that its development be accelerated.

“Despite the government’s assertion that the Smart Freight software will be ready before January 1, 2021, this timeline fails to take into account the time it will take for transport companies, their customers, subcontractors and customs intermediaries to agree and coordinate the necessary business processes at the right time to gain access to the border,” said Sarah Laouadi, European policy manager at Logistics UK. “We are concerned that mass testing using of this software will not be possible until October — or maybe even November: this is far too late."

The freight industry fears businesses will have to learn how to use the new software just when they are at their busiest — planning for Christmas and with the prospect of further COVID-19 restrictions during the fall and winter.

“Even if the software is ready by the end of the year, the government’s plans ignore the users’ perspective — our members will need time to learn the new system, adopt it and help to iron out any potential issues in the system. This will leave logistics businesses carrying the can for the government’s failure to plan in a timely fashion — something we have been warning about for some time now.”

Robert Keen, director general of the British International Freight Association, said “a pattern is emerging of announcements with attention-grabbing headlines, but minimal detail that doesn't appear to have been thought through,” pointing to the Smart Freight System as one example.

A government spokesperson said: “We are taking back control of our borders, and leaving the single market and the customs union at the end of this year bringing both changes and significant opportunities for which we all need to prepare.”


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