Grappling with the three Cs of Covid, Christmas and customs
YOU'LL find few who were not glad to see the back of 2020. But the ‘new year, new me' mood didn't last long as business grappled with the challenges of Covid, Christmas and customs.
The mood was lifted a bit on Christmas Eve as the UK and EU announced they had agreement on their future relationship. It is of course good that they reached a deal - the problem is it's just not a very good deal.
Never before have two partners decided to make it much more difficult to do business, create more barriers to trade and add crippling costs and complexities for our job creators who generate taxes to pay for public services.
Our business community were clear to both that there was a need for derogations, mitigations and compensation and has for months said we needed detail and time. We were screaming that it was impossible for firms to be ready for January 1. Sadly MPs from various parties removed that opportunity last summer. What they thought was useful to focus the minds of negotiators is now clearly playing out in the disruption at home, in Britain and Ireland.
Many manufacturers closed for Christmas on December 18, but the Trader Support Service wasn't visible until 21st. For those in food supply, the last form wasn't available until 4pm on the 30th, leaving no time to train colleagues, and it wasn't until minutes before Jools Holland's Hootenanny that details on e-commerce and parcels were published.
The real time decline of the Scottish fishing industry, GB exporters and others as they discover that being outside of the EUs Single Market and Customs Union isn't the sunny uplands some promised is painful to watch. Elsewhere, Britain's manufacturing community are being sunk by mind-numbing Rules of Origin and supply problems as continental hauliers are reluctant to queue in the rain for hours at customs posts in Dover on the way back out.
Despite the late deal and no detail our own business community and others have performed heroically. When problems strike, good people step up and there are countless examples of hauliers, retailers, manufacturers and civil servants here and in London who run towards trouble, been pragmatic and positive and are getting stuff done. Doing the simple things at pace and making today better than yesterday.
Fixes are found and delivered every day because of their commitment to make things work. For instance, this week will see testing of a new groupage transport solution developed with chief vet Robert Huey, assistant chief vet Brian Dooher, trade body colleagues Seamus Leheny and Aodhán Connolly and their memberships. The idea is simple and supported by the EU and will make a big difference to food suppliers and food services in particular.
Given the UK's decision to leave without any transition, problems will continue to be discovered. Time is needed to get the unaware, unprepared or unwilling GB suppliers up to speed, a reopening of our economy will provide backloads for our hauliers, the UK's EU Border at Dublin needs fixed (what takes six hours in Dublin is taking six minutes in Belfast) and the April 1 deadline for the grace period on Export Health Certificates is quickly approaching.
The past two weeks have been like trying to break in a new pair of shoes. It takes time for the leather to soften and form around your feet. But sometimes your feet take new shape too. In the meantime there can be some discomfort from the friction. However our new shoes are bought now and we have no choice but to stick with them.
:: Stephen Kelly (email@example.com) is chief executive of Manufacturing NI (www.manufacturingni.org). Twitter: @ManufacturingNI