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The UK logistics industry has welcomed more clarity in the government’s new border operating model, but has warned that many details are still lacking, making the timeframes “extremely challenging”.

The 206-page document, published yesterday, outlines protocols for borders and differing commodities, but a lot relies on new technology, which is either not completed or not currently compatible with industry systems.

However, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) welcomed an acknowledgement that forwarders play a crucial role in managing customs procedures.

“Today’s announcement makes it very clear that importers/exporters, in particular those that have previously only traded with the EU, really need to consider what they need to do, collect data, appoint someone to act on their behalf and give the intermediary the necessary information,” said director general Robert Keen.

“Government appears to have woken up to the fact that customs procedures are complicated and are not simply about ticking a few boxes.”

But he added: “We remain concerned that the information delivered today was not made available earlier and that some of the details appear to be at the conceptual stage, with detail lacking.

“This will make the timeframes for consultation, and then devising the appropriate IT systems, extremely challenging.

“Even with a phased transition that comes with the new border operating model, and yesterday’s commitment to a further £705m investment to fund new infrastructure, jobs and technology at the GB-EU border, we remain concerned on a number of issues, including the recruitment of staff qualified and experienced in customs procedures, and the lack of available time to train newcomers, which is not a five-minute job.”

Without new technology, there is a likelihood of congestion at the border and severe delays. One new announcement is a Smart Freight System (SFS) for the ro-ro industry.

The government document says: “The service would be introduced for ro-ro freight travelling from the UK to the EU and would help ensure that only vehicles carrying the correct documentation for member state border controls travel to ports.

“We anticipate that the SFS would include a web-based portal that provides support to the wider border industry, by signposting information related to exporting goods from the GB to the EU. The web portal would require that details of the HGV being used to transport goods to a particular port are submitted in advance of the journey commencing.”

It added that the SFS could be used for traffic management, and that drivers who had not used it could face fines. The government said it would consult with industry over the summer.

However, one technology expert said its success would hinge on tight control of data at the border.

The success of the SFS will be determined by its capability to manage the swathes of data that run through the system,” said Mike Kiersey, Boomi principal technologist.

“While the exact details are still somewhat unclear, it is certain that the system will need to be integrated with the relevant tax authorities to ensure a smooth passage. This will be a delicate process, and one that will depend on the digital ecosystem set in place and the connectors at its core.

“A siloed approach will not work here, with the need for access to real-time data. Core legacy applications across government departments need to be open via APIs to enable emerging technologies to enter the architecture to help digitally capture information at the borders.

“To ensure a single ‘track and trace’ view of freight, clean and trusted data must be captured into a single master data hub to record critical information. These systems need to be able to capture, prepare and process the data to ensure swift processing times and avoid traffic deadlock.”

The SFS is not the only technology that has industry concerned. The Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) is meant to solve challenges created by the surge in declarations that the UK will face, initially to Northern Ireland in January, and then to the EU from July.

It will work by pre-lodging approved declarations and other related paperwork into a GMR (goods movement reference), enabling hauliers to move goods through the port of entry quickly.

It is not expected to be ready for testing until November, despite its January launch, and many in the industry are worried that systems which have to connect with it won’t be ready.

“There is a good chance of HMRC getting it ready, but it requires ports, hauliers and forwarders to connect with it,” explained Peter MacSwiney, chairman of ASM UK. “That’s extremely unlikely, as we only heard about it a couple of weeks ago. And the government has quite a bit of functionality to add.”

He said the industry was already struggling: for example, Northern Ireland is not listed as a separate country in systems, so it is not possible to create an entry for it, requiring more work.

“All these are little things that no one thinks about, and everyone is very busy doing that. It’s quite a bit of work and then suddenly to have something else thrown into the mix is a bit difficult. And in road freight, nothing is standardised, so trying to input data is very, very difficult.

“The UK will say, it’s ok, let it go. But I can’t see the French wanting to do the UK any favours.”

Major recent technological disasters by the UK government, particularly the expensive failure of a Covid-tracing app, has not boosted industry confidence.

Brian McGrath, chief executive and harbour commissioner at Foyle Port, said:  “I don’t think the track record of government in terms of that sort of technology implementation would give anybody a great deal of comfort.”

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