British forwarders have been on edge for months as the coming Brexit deal creates more uncertainty in the European cargo business every day. But regardless of how the separation of the United Kingdom from the European Union works out, one area of the business that many agree needs strengthening is customs brokerage, which is the target of a new U.K. government program to support training and the upgrade of customs-related IT systems.
Under the program, up to £8 million in grants have been set aside to support and increase the capacity of all customs intermediaries and traders to handle the volume of declarations that are expected this spring in the wake of Brexit.
The grant includes £3 million for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the branch of the government responsible for taxation, to invest in more customs training. About £2 million of the total will also fund training for intermediaries and traders who complete customs declarations. The grant will provide funding for up to one-half of the cost of training staff.
The British International Freight Association (BIFA), which represents the forwarding and logistics industries in the U.K., praised the government program for helping ease concerns about a potential bottleneck in the supply chain that may result from Brexit next year.
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“The government has actively engaged with freight forwarders, independent customs brokers and fast parcel operators in order to understand the needs and challenges industry bodies face in supporting current and future clients,” read a BIFA statement this week. “This scheme is intended to help support the extra demand for customs brokerage services associated with the U.K.’s departure from the E.U., as well as issues associated with the replacement of the current system used to process customs entries.”
In meetings with HMRC and the country’s Treasury department, BIFA’s director, Robert Keen, said the association expressed concerns regarding “the capability of the customs brokerage sector to increase capacity” when the customs industry was also facing a shortage of qualified personnel. “We emphasized that it could take up to a year to train staff to be fully conversant to prepare a range of basic customs declarations,” Keen said, “even if there was a sufficient number of trainers to train those staff, as well as relevant courses for them to attend. So, the news of this funding is very welcome.”
BIFA said it is encouraging any of its members who might benefit from the training to apply now. The deadline for accepting applications for the U.K. program will be April 5, 2019.