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HMRC offers £8m reward to systems integrators who can customise Brexit

With the departure from the EU looming, attempts to make customs processes easier has gathered pace

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: Look to the future

HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has made £8m available to any company that can automate the customs configurations needed in response to Brexit.

It is hoped that this investment, which was made available in December 2018, will prepare the UK for leaving the European Union (EU) on 29 March 2019. The logic is that any customs intermediaries and traders who complete, or intend to complete, customs declarations can apply for funding for training and IT.

The government has said customs intermediaries face an uphill challenge to support existing clients when Britain leaves the EU. Given that traders are being urged to address new markets outside the EU, their customs clearance work will get even harder. Traders will need all the systems, training and support they can get.

The government has put forward an £8m plan to help pay for the investment, and HMRC claimed it is had engaged extensively with industry bodies and customs broker services.

The government said it has consulted with the nation’s leading freight forwarders, fast parcel operators and independent customs brokers. However, these claims was met with scepticism by some in the industry, with one expert in customs regulations stating: “I seriously doubt that.”

HMRC said it collated the feedback for training company Knowledge Pool, which is described as a managed service learning company. Knowledge Pool will work with training companies to develop courses in 2019, with some already launched.

While there was a meeting that engaged freight forwarders a year ago, one regulations expert told Microscope that “forwarders had more questions than answers and HMRC didn’t know enough”. There were calls for more training on customs compliance systems and the auditing process. 

Peter MacSwiney, co-chair of HMRC’s Joint Customs Consultative Committee (JCCC) Brexit Sub Group and chairman of Agency Sector Management, expressed dismay at the situation.

“For an entire country [to be] this unprepared should send alarm bells ringing,” said MacSwiney. “We are left with mere months to make adjustments.”

Whatever the “Deal or No Deal” Brexit outcome, MacSwiney said the transition period should be two years if the UK is to protect trade flows and avoid a negative economic impact.

Logistics expert Shahar Ayash, managing director for Europe at supply chain specialist Tigers, suggests that a virtual border could be created. If this can be developed, it will allow the necessary monitoring of the import and export of goods and buffer the impact of any tariff implications that are likely to materialise.

“No matter what kind of Brexit we will face – hard, soft or no deal – we anticipate transport disruptions at the land and sea borders that connect the UK with the continent,” said Ayash.

Applications for HMRC’s £8m investment are now open. Most of the fund is dedicated to IT system improvements, with £2m to support training costs for customs intermediaries and traders, and £3m for IT improvements to any small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) intermediary that acts for importers and exporters.

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