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Port groups are growing increasingly agitated about the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s roll-out of border control posts (BCPs).
These will need to be operational when the country imposes full border controls on shipments from the EU on 1 January.
Responding to the latest report from the National Audit Office (NAO), Tim Morris, CEO of the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) aid the concerns around the implementation of BCPs presented “real risks” to UK trade.
“There needs to be an immediate stop to changes in assumptions and specifications from government, so ports can complete facilities,” he said.
“Government must urgently work with industry on this – we have solutions and are committed to making new border arrangements work,” he added.
Ports are at the forefront of building BCPs, which will perform checks on goods entering the UK from Europe, but government has taken on duties at some of the larger facilities.
Mr Morris said despite having contractual commitments in place with ports, government has shifted deadlines, catching ports off guard, and the funding provided has “proved inadequate”, leaving ports to foot the “circa £100m investment shortfall”.
In its report, the NAO notes: “The specification of the BCPs has been late and subject to last-minute revisions, all of which has delayed delivery and increased costs. It remains unclear how the cost of these facilities is recovered. This presents notable risks to the resilience of EU-UK trade flows. Infrastructure has taken longer to deliver than it should have, plus traders will be less aware of routes available and requirements.”
British Ports Association (BPA) CEO Richard Ballantyne said Mr Morris was “bang on the money”, and there were further concerns among his members, not least of which was that the government appeared to repeatedly ignore NAO warnings.
“In our evidence to the NAO, we’ve expressed the view that government has often failed to acknowledge concerns raised in NAO reports,” he told The Loadstar. “And one area we are really concerned about is staffing. Will BCP facilities be sufficiently staffed, both in terms of numbers and of people with the right skillset to do the job? And what about operating hours?
“We’re not convinced that these facilities will operate outside traditional 9-5 hours, which could see some tradelanes negatively affected if shipments come outside those hours.”
And director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium Andrew Opie asked Parliament’s International Trade Committee last week: “Where are the lorry parks that need to be built? We have particular concerns about ports in Wales and at the Channel.
“We are also getting reports that veterinary offices are not open 24/7 to operate the kind if supply chain we have been operating for decades,” he added.
Meanwhile, some questioned the commitment of ports to “get ready” for Brexit, with one truck driver suggesting the “prevarication” may have been because of a “desire to see the Brexit decision reversed, or the country kept in the EU customs union”.
The driver noted that “no ports deal solely” with EU trade, so they should have been suitably aware of the changes due.
“They’ve had four years to prepare, so should have done more strategic thinking – the only variable was when these rules would come into force,” the driver told The Loadstar. “That the government has not been good in communicating what needed to be done is true, but the past 20 months have seen them dealing with the pandemic as priority.”
A haulage operator added that ferry ports had been made aware of the new customs procedures “ages ago” and added: “Nothing has changed so I do not understand where these comments are coming from. This idea of ‘structural readiness’ is a load of rubbish, so any idea that they’ve been dealt a bad hand is BS.
“We are all in business and have to abide by rules and regulations that change and, as a haulier, we have more rules and regulations to bear than the average operator in supply chains. I cannot abide ‘poor me’ stories.”
The driver suggested the noise coming from ports was “let’s get our excuses out there in advance”, but in general appeared optimistic.
“I think our ports will cope – they always do,” he added.