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Business left to resolve border delays, survey finds


British businesses are sceptical that the government and EU will resolve problems at the UK border and instead believe it will fall to them to reduce costly delays, according to a survey.

ClearBorder, a training consultancy, surveyed 150 mostly small companies and found that only a third of respondents were “very or somewhat confident” in the government’s ability to improve import and export procedures. But there were higher levels of faith in suppliers and the logistics industry.

The report comes after the introduction of new Brexit customs checks on January 1 on goods entering the UK from the EU. Some companies have complained that the additional paperwork requirements have led to hold-ups.

Christopher Salmon, founder of clearBorder and a former adviser to Brexit minister Lord David Frost and cabinet office minister Michael Gove, said the government “needed to pull its finger out” if it expected to deliver on its border strategy for 2025, which envisages a single interface for all customs declarations.

“It’s all quite arcane and antiquated at the moment . . . you have systems that can’t talk to each other,” he said.

“Things won’t go back to the way they were but they can be a lot better than they are now,” he added, pointing to the creation of HMRC’s online tax self-assessment system as a blueprint.

Over four-fifths of survey respondents said they had experienced delays in importing goods since January 2021, and two-thirds had encountered them when exporting.

Meanwhile, a third have had goods rejected or impounded while half of importers of perishable items said they had experienced items becoming unsellable as a result of delays.

“There may not be the long queues of lorries at ports that some had predicted but [that] does not mean there aren’t issues,” said Salmon.

“Instead, the impact of delays is spread along the supply chain,” he added. A majority of companies are now holding more inventory, which consumes more working capital, and 38 per cent said they had established a subsidiary in the EU to make the process smoother.

Salmon attributed delays reported by businesses since the documentation checks began partly to lower levels of familiarity with new requirements among overseas suppliers, especially within smaller companies, but added that “there has been a spirit of muddling through as everyone learns how to run the border”.

“The difference is that this time the UK is in control of the pace of implementation,” he said, contrasting its “pragmatic” approach with the EU’s introduction of full controls in January 2021.

So far, UK authorities have prioritised the flow of goods and physical inspections of items entering the UK from the EU — as opposed to just the accompanying documentation. Additional customs regulations are expected from July 1.

However, Salmon said that if the border processes could be speeded up, the UK would have valuable software and expertise that it could sell to the rest of the world.

“I cannot think of a trade border anywhere else in the world where such a volume of trade passes through at such a rate,” he said of the Strait of Dover.

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