HMRC today announced a £16m investment to help businesses - including retailers that export to the EU – train their staff to make customs declarations, or to help those that advise other businesses to invest in their IT. The move is aimed at ensuring trade with the EU continues “as smoothly as possible” after Brexit on October 31. Applications for the funding can be made until the end of January or until the funding runs out, whichever comes sooner.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said: “Brexit takes place on October 31 and we urge all businesses to make the necessary preparations to be fully ready. The government has doubled the support available, so that thousands more customs experts are on hand to help businesses and after Brexit day.” This represents a second wave of funding, says HMRC, that has already seen £8m invested in training customs staff and investing in an online UK Customs Academy that launched on August 12.
The investment comes days after the British Retail Consortium spoke out against claims by Michael Gove, responsible for the Government’s no-deal planning, that a No Deal Brexit would not result in food shortages.
A BRC spokesperson said: “It is categorically untrue that the supply of fresh food will be unaffected under a no deal Brexit. The retail industry has been crystal clear in its communications with Government over the past 36 months that the availability of fresh foods will be impacted as a result of checks and delays at the border. Indeed, the Government’s own assessments showed that the flow of goods through the channel crossings could be reduced by 40-60% from day 1, as would the “availability and choice” of some foods. The BRC’s own assessment has shown that soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes and lettuces, would likely see reduced availability as they are largely imported during the winter months.
“While retailers continue to work with their suppliers to maintain stocks of non-perishable goods and plan ahead for any disruption caused by a no deal Brexit, it is impossible to mitigate it fully as neither retailers nor consumers can stockpile fresh foods. The reality remains that a no deal Brexit in October would present the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there. Retailers will be preparing for Christmas, stretching already limited warehousing capacity, and the UK will be importing the majority of its fresh food from the EU, magnifying the impact of border delays.”
Meanwhile, logistics industry body the FTA is launching a new event, The Labour Shortages Conference, to be held on October 29 at the Macdonald Burlington Hotel in Birmingham. The event will feature speakers and workshops advising how to recruit and retain staff at a time of “crisis point” in the sector.
Sally Gilson, head of skills campaigns at the FTA, said: “The nationwide shortage of skilled staff presents a serious challenge to logistics businesses; significant shortfalls of HGV drivers, warehouse staff, fitters, technicians and mechanics are all anticipated to continue in the next 12 months, which could be exacerbated by the loss of EU nationals from the UK after Brexit. Between an ageing workforce, competition for skilled staff and shifting migration patterns, the sector is facing serious obstacles in the recruitment and retention of staff; FTA’s Labour Shortages Conference will arm companies with the practical knowledge and tools they need to face these challenges head on.”