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Border Target Operating Model gives update on digital border plans

The model aims to make smarter use of data and technology at the border, including a digital gateway for users to provide data and apply for licences and authorisations

The government has published an updated Border Target Operating model, setting out plans to maximise the use of technology to improve security and biosecurity controls and streamline imports and exports, while keeping the UK safe.

The target operating model aims to make smart use of data and technology to make trading more efficient, including removing duplication and reducing the amount of data and paperwork needed.

The government claims this updated approach will save businesses £520m annually compared with the originally planned import model.  

Cabinet Office minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe said the Border Target Operating Model “will ensure more efficient trading for businesses, protect against biosecurity threats and further crack down on illegal imports such as firearms and drugs”.

“By making maximum use of data and new technologies, our innovative yet risk-based approach is key to delivering a world-class border system,” she said.

“Once fully implemented, these important post-Brexit measures will bring considerable benefits to the UK economy and to UK trade, and the government stands ready to support businesses through this transition.”

The plans include a Singe Trade Window (STW), which will underpin the government’s digital approach to controls. The STW system will essentially be a single digital gateway where users will be able to provide the data needed to trade, as well as being able to apply for licences and authorisations for trusted trader schemes. The aim is for the STW to be fully operational by 2027.

The government has been running a series of pilots, testing how data insights and technology can reduce border friction, and how supply chain data can replace traditional safety and security declarations.

The outcome of this is the design of the STW, which will include the capability to “collect and process supply chain data and share it with government systems in the future, which could provide more accurate and timely data for performing government risking operations”, according to the model document.

“Through the UK Single Trade Window, we will seek to eliminate duplication in customs processes. We intend to simplify the submission of data by enabling traders and intermediaries to meet their import, export and transit-related obligations by submitting information to government once and in one place,” it said.

“This data will then be reused across other declarations – relevant information can be passed on to the departments who need it. This reuse of data will ease the previous administrative burden of having to provide the same information multiple times for the same movement.”

The system will also bring together other border services and provide features such as applying for and managing licences to trade.

While the Cabinet Office is leading on the development of the system, it is a cross-government programme, with more than 25 government departments involved, and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is responsible for the delivery.

In November 2022, the government went out to tender for a technical delivery partner. In May 2023, Deloite and IBM were chosen to deliver and maintain the system.

“Drawing on their previous experience, Deloitte and IBM have already started to build the necessary IT and technical foundations and will now work across government, ensuring the service design and delivery of the Single Trade Window is fit for now and the future,” the document said.

The system will be released in stages, and the suppliers have begun the build of the system – however, the pace and scope of the development is subject to delivering “suitable legislation to enable sharing of data across government”.

The first strategic release, which will be made available before October 2024,  aims to offer users the ability to make entry summary declarations for safety and security and customs import declarations and enable the collection and re-use of pre-submitted data on behalf of traders. It will also allow users to take advantage of integration with the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS).

The government will publish a more detailed implementation plan in autumn of 2023 – however, the current timeline aims for the capacity for users to submit safety and security and customs import declarations via the system during 2023-24.  During the same time, the system will also enable the cloning and reuse of pre-submitted data, and allow multiple users to collaborate on one submission.

From 2024-2025, additional functionality will be introduced, including plans to remove duplication across different pre-arrival datasets and give users the ability to submit customs export declarations. It will also allow users to apply for valid import and export licences as well as permits and authorisations for the government to respond via the Single Trade Window.

From 2025 and beyond, the plan is to implement greater functionality, including sanitary and phytosanitary exports, imports of live animals.

“Once early functionality is released, traders will be able to start using the Single Trade Window to complete some import and safety and security declarations,” the document said.

“The government recognises that some traders might only move to the new system when it provides all of the functionality they need, and when convenient, which means usage is expected to grow over time.”

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses will be pleased with the clarity provided in the Border Target Operating Model “as they prepare for a challenging shift to a digital trade system”.

“The focus must now be on delivering the Single Trade Window to the timescales set out. The new approach to digitalising borders for goods movements could bring real benefits to the SMEs we represent, to trade, and to the economy,” he said.

“The critical thing is preparedness. Businesses are making investment and supply chain decisions for the long term and need to be confident that the physical and digital infrastructure around the GB border is going to be in place on time.”

The government is also continuing with improving existing system migration programmes, such as migrating users onto the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which is replacing the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) system. Chief was originally due to be turned off in March 2020, but the system has continued to be used as part of a dual approach that was scaled up to handle an increased volume of declarations.

Read more about the digital border:

  • Home secretary’s plans for immigration reform include border crossing technology, online immigration status service and electronic travel authorisation system.
  • BAE Systems wins three-year contract worth £38m to help Home Office develop Cerberus, a project to secure UK borders through advanced data systems and analytics.
  • UK border surveillance regime highly privatised: Research from Privacy International raises concerns about the deep involvement of technology companies in the development and deployment of various technologies throughout the UK’s border regime, along with the lack of scrutiny they receive.

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