BIFA casts doubt over UK government’s Brexit customs training funding

By Rachelle Harry

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) has expressed reservations about the UK government’s latest announcement about funding for customs training.

The announcement, made yesterday, stated that a further £16m will be put towards helping businesses to train staff to make customs declarations, as well as helping businesses who support others to trade goods to invest in IT.

However, BIFA director general Robert Keen, said: “Whilst we welcome the additional funding, as we did when the first funding was announced in December last year, we query whether it will, as the announcement states, lead to thousands of more customs experts being on hand to help businesses on and after Brexit day.

“During our meetings with both HM Treasury and HMRC, BIFA has highlighted the concerns of our members regarding the capability of the customs brokerage sector to increase capacity, at a time when that sector already faces a huge shortage of staff of suitable quality.”

Keen also pointed out that training takes time, as well as money: “We emphasised that it could take up to a year to train staff to be fully conversant to prepare a range of basic Customs declarations, even if there was a sufficient number of trainers to train those staff, as well as relevant courses for them to attend.

“In early August, the BBC reported that of an estimated 240,000 UK businesses that currently trade with the EU, less than 1,000 had applied for the grants made available in the first round of funding.”

Keen identified that the application process itself – as well as the training period, mentioned above – may take longer than anticipated. “Worryingly, an analysis of the latest funding by Yahoo Finance UK suggests that the applications process may mean that any finance from the latest range of funding may not be received until after the UK has already left and customs rules change on October 31st,” he said.

“Yahoo Finance UK’s analysis suggests that the timescale of the application process seems to indicate that only companies which are able to source a quote for training and submit their applications by next Tuesday can be confident of receiving their actual funding before UK’s scheduled departure date.”

“That just adds to the enormous uncertainty and pressure that BIFA members, which are responsible for managing the movement of a large proportion of the UK’s visible international trade, have faced since the result of the Brexit referendum in June 2016.”

Despite its reservations, BIFA is encouraging its members who believe they might benefit to apply; if they have not done so already.

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