Shortage of customs agents ‘risks border chaos’
‘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.