Hauliers hiring dozens of dedicated customs staff to ease Brexit delays
A NUMBER of larger haulage firms in Northern Ireland are scrambling to recruit dozens of dedicated customs administrators to deal solely with the new arrangements Brexit will bring.
It comes amid continuing fears that they are likely to experience disruption to their business, including an inability to move goods into or out of Northern Ireland, regardless of the final outcome of the current UK-EU talks.
And while the government's free Trader Support Service has been set up to guide businesses through the process and complete declarations on their behalf, many bigger hauliers are opting to take their own control of arrangements by bringing them in-house.
"Businesses have been severely let down by government, which has largely abdicated its responsibility to the haulier in terms of honest and clear practical advice for our SMEs," Hannon Transport Group marketing manager Owen McLaughlin told the Irish News.
"Our emphasis now is to try to prepare our customers to make sure their products keep flowing, because if they don’t, then we don’t have a service they require, so we are doing this to preserve our business rather than build it."
Aghalee-based Hannon Group, which has close to 400 staff, has recruited a team of 20 customs administrators, headed up by lawyer Donard McCann, who has been dedicated to Brexit preparations for the last year and has completed formal training in customs procedures and requirements.
Owen added: "We, like most other big hauliers across Northern Ireland, are shooting in the dark here, trying to search for people to do a customs job that died off 40 years ago.
"As well as opening a new office in Templepatrick, we have also invested heavily in new technology systems including a portal to allow customers to provide us with the basic customs information which we can then process for them.
"We will effectively be acting as a customs agent to help reduce the overheads on many of our customers who simply don’t have the resources to complete customs declarations efficiently or accurately, and where any errors carry the clear risk of being refused at the port."
Seamus Leheny, regional manager of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), said: "Given the continuing confusion around what might or might not happen, companies like Hannon, Montgomery, Woodside and McBurney among others are moving to ensure they have control of their own arrangements from the word go.
"When you are dealing with shipments of goods coming in from the likes of the US or China, time isn't of the essence.
"But with such tight time-lines around GB-NI movements, it will give them and their customers confidence that goods can be handled without undue delays."
McCulla Transport, meanwhile, has submitted a planning application for a £1.9 million extension to its cold storage facility in Lisburn and will also be recruiting two Brexit liaison officers.
It says it requires the greater capacity as logistics arrangements change from January, with a health certificate required for every product coming into the island of Ireland.
With health certificates costing around £350 per consignment, it will move from seven deliveries a week of three pallets to just one delivery a week of 21 pallets, and needs the space to store the goods for a longer period of time.
Although the NI Protocol doesn't come into force until January 1, the north's new Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) code has already kicked in.
Businesses and individuals wishing to trade must apply for and use the EORI number 'XI' as a stamp unique to identify Northern Ireland in all procedures when exchanging information with customs.