Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Road Haulage Lobby Sounds Off on Budget and the Northern Irish Trade Situation

'Don't Forget You Owe Us Ministers'
Shipping News Feature

UK – With a budget unlike any other due on Wednesday 3 March the vested interests from the world of logistics have fired the first warning shots across the Chancellor's bows whilst simultaneously asking government to resolve what is a difficult Northern Irish situation with regard to trade with the EU.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) was amongst others this week to point out to Chancellor Rishi Sunak the debt owed by the country to the logistics sector. RHA members were amongst the thousands of commercial vehicles operators which have kept store shelves stocked, front-line healthcare workers supplied with PPE, and delivered fuel to filling stations so that millions of motorists and other essential service providers could carry on working.

However it also stresses that, along with many in other sectors hauliers, while they endeavour to keep things going for the rest of the population, are themselves often really struggling. As RHA chief executive Richard Burnett points out:

“Last April, as Covid-19 tightened its grip on the UK, we asked industry as a whole as to how it was coping. The results were startling, 50% of the UK’s trucks were laid up as a result of contracts ending due to the virus and drivers being laid off, or furloughed.

“Those able to carry on picked up a lot of the slack and although it was never a case of ‘business as usual’ they did their absolute best to ensure that the UK didn’t go without. For an industry that has to make every single penny count, the effect of a duty increase of just 1p per litre will be devastating and will mean the end of the road for many operators."

And there we have it. The fear is, with the enormous sums laid out by the government during the course of the pandemic to support both individuals and businesses, not to mention the purchases of PPE, vaccines and the like, all make tax hikes almost inevitable. While analysts and economists widely predict raised Corporation and Capital Gains tax rates, historically fuel duty has been a ‘soft target’. No more according to Howard Cox of the campaigning group FairFuelUK, who said:

"Rishi is risking political suicide by breaking Boris’s promise to the nation that duty would not be hiked. The way forward out of this economic quagmire is to incentivise not punish the very people who are at the heart of any commercial recovery. Any rise in fuel duty would generate extraordinarily little revenue, but most certainly would risk jobs, hike inflation, and stagnate business investment with the poorest catastrophically hit hardest.

“This anti-driver Government sees the world’s highest taxed drivers as the easy target! We will be fighting for UK’s 37 million drivers every step of the way to get Fuel Duty reduced, and at worst, remain frozen, so more money is put back into consumers’ pockets, small businesses, and the vital haulage industry."

Meanwhile the RHA has also called on ministers to work with their EU counterparts to extend the easements being provided to supermarkets to cover all Northern Ireland supplies to give firms moving goods across the Irish Sea time to adjust to new processes. It says since 1 January, complex bureaucracy has seen trade and the movement of product stop, and with no signs of improvement hauliers are continuing to incur significant drops in trade and financial losses.

In a letter to Michael Gove, RHA Chief Executive, Richard Burnett explained that new guidance UK and Irish officials issued last week to help ease pressure on groupage movements is unclear and not fit for purpose. He wrote:

“The new model has not been stress-tested and does not consider the impact on suppliers having to develop bespoke processes within their own businesses. It also fails to address the complexity and overly bureaucratic requirements designed for external trade and not internal within the UK. It does not recognise the shortage of vets.”

Mr Burnett repeated his call on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to host an immediate roundtable with Northern Irish hauliers to find a workable solution and provide financial support for those who’ve suffered significant losses as a result. He also urged Mr Gove to work with industry to understand how collectively the customs intermediary shortage can be resolved to adequately handle EU trade, suggesting that RHA intelligence indicates that loads to the EU have reduced by as much as 68%.

Certainly we have evidence in the past few days that EU ministers simply do not understand the simmering resentment that often lurks beneath the surface of the province. Now, with death threats spray painted on the walls against council staff, all physical full regulatory checks as laid out in the Brexit agreement have been suspended at the ports of Belfast and Larne for trucks carrying animal-based food products.

Comments left on walls at the ports about the Northern Ireland Protocol and describing staff as ‘targets’ now mean that currently only documentary checks are being undertaken.

Photo: Image courtesy of Brexit Fuels, Jonesborough, Newry, NI.