Responding to the publication of the National Audit Office (NAO)’s report on the progress of the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) programme, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has raised serious concerns about the progress of the project, and its suitability to handle the anticipated levels of Customs declarations at British ports post-Brexit.
FTA, the UK’s largest and most influential membership association in the logistics sector, has grave doubts that the new system, currently in development by HMRC, will be able to cope with the anticipated 255 million additional Customs declarations to be made at British ports each year when the UK leaves the European Union.
“With only two months anticipated between the delivery of the CDS programme and the UK’s departure from the EU, it is imperative that all the potential problems have been ironed out in the system before implementation,” says James Hookham, FTA’s deputy chief executive. “Without assurances that the rigorous stress tests recommended by the NAO have been undertaken, to ensure the Customs system can cope with the high volumes of traffic it will be handling, HMRC will be creating unnecessary uncertainty for British businesses, at a time stable trading conditions will be vital for our economy.
“But there is no mention how exporters and importers, their agents and their carriers will be trained in time to make this a smooth transition to Keep Britain Trading.
“It is irresponsible to suggest that a programme like CDS can be introduced overnight, and it is vital that the government and its negotiators do not leave business on a cliff edge, with no deal agreed at the UK’s point of departure from the EU. Britain’s economy needs a transitional period to ensure that Customs declarations can be moved to a new handling system in a controlled and managed method. To do otherwise could be disastrous for the UK.”
More than 180,000 businesses are expected to use the new CDS system to facilitate UK-EU trade. And as Hookham continues, HMRC needs to ensure that its implementation of the new programme is supported by the whole of government to smooth its introduction:
“FTA’s members are wholeheartedly in support of the NAO’s call for HMRC to receive whatever support it needs from across government to ensure that the CDS system can be introduced on time and with the necessary capacity. Funding and resources need to be prioritised to speed up progress with the programme, alongside the development of a full scale contingency plan, to ensure that the UK’s logistics industry is not left high and dry by a failure to deliver the new Customs system on time.”