Short­age of cus­toms agents ‘risks bor­der chaos’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By Lizzy Bur­den

‘Every­thing we’re hear­ing from HMRC is adding to the bu­reau­cracy. It is a se­ri­ous prob­lem’

TRADE groups have warned over a crip­pling short­age of cus­toms agents as they brace for a del­uge of Brexit pa­per­work from Jan­uary.

Duncan Buchanan of the Road Haulage As­so­ci­a­tion warned there was no longer time to train agents to the right stan­dard – po­ten­tially spark­ing chaos at the bor­ders.

Min­is­ters said ear­lier this year that about 50,000 more pri­vate sec­tor staff would be needed to meet cus­toms de­mand when Bri­tain left the sin­gle mar­ket, although this could be lower if a trade deal was struck.

Mr Buchanan said: “Those peo­ple need to be in a po­si­tion to do the data en­try, but every­thing we’re hear­ing from HMRC is adding to the bu­reau­cracy. It’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem.”

The Gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to re­lease fur­ther de­tails of its new bor­der op­er­at­ing model for North­ern Ire­land on Wednesday.

A re­port by the In­sti­tute for Gov­ern­ment think-tank con­cluded that £84m pro­vided by HMRC to help train cus­toms agents on be­half of com­pa­nies may still not be enough as they fight to process up to 215m new cus­toms dec­la­ra­tions a year.

Mr Buchanan said: “At the mo­ment, only com­pa­nies that are al­ready cus­toms bro­kers can ap­ply for the fund­ing. That’s not a sus­tain­able po­si­tion. The vast ma­jor­ity of lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies spe­cial­is­ing in Europe-only road haulage have never needed to do cus­toms them­selves. They need to be able to pro­vide a ser­vice to their cus­tomers which they haven’t done since 1992.”

He said the idea that peo­ple made re­dun­dant by Covid-19 could be re­trained as cus­toms in­ter­me­di­aries by Jan­uary was “non­sense on stilts”.

The IfG noted con­cerns that class­room-based cus­toms train­ing could not re­place real-world ex­pe­ri­ence, which can take about a year to gain.

HMRC did not com­ment.

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