Thursday, October 4, 2018

New Customs Training Initiative but Tories Ignore Logistics Labour Pool and Brexodus at Their Peril

Freight and Warehousing Bosses Speak Out on Latest Brexit Plans Affecting the Industry
Shipping News Feature
UK – Freight associations have been speaking of the recent government announcement that there will be an investment of £8 million for 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. Although the news was broadly welcomed, the country's leading organisation representing forwarding agents, to whom the announcement is most relevant, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) sounded a note of caution, and indeed opprobrium at the way the message was delivered. Robert Keen, Director General, said:

“To see the latest news about Government plans for Customs revealed through the columns of a national newspaper, just adds insult to injury. 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?

“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.”

In late August, when the UK government supplied information to businesses on trading with the EU if there is no deal, BIFA said that the bulk of visible trade that takes place between the EU and the UK is managed by freight forwarders and logistics professionals on behalf of traders. Therefore some of the content of the information released could be considered rather patronising, as those freight professionals are already aware of many of the issues of concern to businesses trading with the EU in the event of no deal.

The leading representative body for warehouse keepers, many of whom are predicting an upturn in storage business post Brexit, is the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) which, like BIFA, has taken an active participant role in dealing with the authorities as the exit from the EU approaches. Peter Ward, UKWA CEO, has worked closely alongside HMRC over recent months, providing expert advice and feedback from the industry, and has been vocal in highlighting the potential crisis at UK borders, given the likelihood of an additional 200 million frontier declarations post Brexit. Speaking about the customs brokerage investment, he observed:

“We are delighted that the government has been listening to the voice of the industry and has responded positively with targeted investment to train the additional resources required. We note that this is being positioned as a Day One, No Deal measure, but we are impressing on government that is that this action is necessary on a sustainable basis, whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

“UKWA is here to help government understand the perspective of the industry on the real impact Brexit is likely to have, particularly on supply chain delays and surging warehouse demand. Meantime, we are advising our members to prepare for a no deal Brexit and the 300,000 businesses that currently trade with the EU to classify goods as per the UCC (Unified Customs Code), apply for deferment accounts and find partners and a trade association that can help them prepare for the turbulent times ahead.”

The UKWA boss struck a different note however when the news filtered down of the speeches at the Conservative party conference which mentioned the potential labour shortage, none of which contained a single syllable pertaining to the logistics industry, the importance of which seems to somehow avoid politicians yet, should the supply chain break down and services and the supply of foodstuffs and other essentials dry up, this would be brought home with a resounding crash.

The UKWA has repeatedly highlighted the impact of the so-called ‘Brexodus’ of Eastern European migrants leaving the UK since the Brexit vote and has voiced the deep concerns of members, a membership that nowadays includes some of the country’s major retailers, that the proposed government cap on immigration post-Brexit will severely exacerbate the labour crisis.

Ward was scathing that the government, once again, is failing to recognise the role of the sector and seems oblivious to the critical labour shortage facing the warehousing and logistics industry; a sector that depends on immigrant labour, particularly at peak times, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas. He continued:

”[The] announcement at the Conservative Party Conference was disappointing in the extreme. It is vital that the Government understands the need for low-level, low-skilled workers. Work permits for level 5 educated employees on salaries over £30k will simply not help our sector. We echo the message to Government from the CBI, but are frustrated that while hospitality, healthcare and construction sectors are mentioned, again logistics is overlooked, yet ours is the industry that facilitates global trade and feeds and clothes the nation.

“Clearly it is imperative that we continue working hard to raise awareness of the potentially disastrous consequences for our members of post-Brexit immigration caps. Next week, we hold our annual parliamentary luncheon and will be taking that opportunity to prioritize this issue in our message to policy makers.”

Photo: The gathering of the faithful at the Tory party conference in Birmingham.