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More funds for customs training – but BIFA has reservations

[ September 6, 2019   //   ]

 

Some £16 million in new funding is now available to help businesses train people in customs clearance, the government announced on 3 September.

This nmoney is to help businesses train staff in making customs declarations, and to help businesses who support others to trade goods to invest in IT to help trade with the EU continues flow as smoothly as possible after Brexit on 31 October.

The government said the funds would help increase the capacity of Customs agents as businesses trading with the EU consider whether to get an expert to complete documentation fafter Brexit.

More than 3,000 agents have already been trained as part of an £8 million investment earlier this year, which has also been used to develop new online learning products for customs staff such as an electronic learning package and a new UK Customs Academy, launched on 12 August.

Businesses based in, or with a branch in, the UK can apply for funding ahead of the UK leaving the EU. Grants can be used to support training costs for businesses who complete customs declarations, or who intend to in the future or funding for IT improvements for small and medium sized employers who are currently involved in trade as an intermediary. Under the second wave of the grant scheme, businesses can apply for the full cost of training, within certain limits as set out in the guidance.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman MP said: “Brexit takes place on 31 October and we urge all businesses to make the necessary preparations to be fully ready. The government has doubled the support available, so that thousands more customs experts are on hand to help businesses on and after Brexit day.”

The Chancellor allocated an extra £2.1 billion for government departments last month to prepare for no deal, and doubled Brexit funding for this year. As part of the cash injection, border and customs operations will receive an additional £344 million to be ready for Brexit, including hiring more border officers and improving transport infrastructure around ports.

Eligible businesses are urged to apply early and those who applied for the first wave may apply again as part of this new wave of grants for expenditure incurred on or after 31 July 2019. Applications will close on 31 January 2020, or earlier once all the funding is allocated.

 

BIFA reaction

British International Freight Association (BIFA) Director General Robert Keen commented however: “Whilst we welcome the additional funding, as we did when the first funding was announced in December last year, we query whether it will, as the announcement states, lead to thousands of more customs experts being on hand to help businesses on and after Brexit day.
“During our meetings with both HM Treasury and HMRC, BIFA has highlighted the concerns of our members regarding the capability of the Customs brokerage sector to increase capacity, at a time when that sector already faces a huge shortage of staff of suitable quality.
“We emphasised that it could take up to a year to train staff to be fully conversant to prepare a range of basic Customs declarations, even if there was a sufficient number of trainers to train those staff, as well as relevant courses for them to attend.
“In early August, the BBC reported that of an estimated 240,000 UK businesses that currently trade with the EU, less than 1,000 had applied for the grants made available in the first round of funding.
“Worryingly, an analysis of the latest funding by Yahoo Finance UK suggests that the applications process may mean that any finance from the latest range of funding may not be received until after the UK has already left and customs rules change on 31 October.”
He added that the analysis suggests that the timescale of the application process seems to indicate that only companies which are able to source a quote for training and submit their applications by next Tuesday can be confident of receiving their actual funding before UK’s scheduled departure date.

Despite the doubts, BIFA is encouraging its members who believe they might benefit to apply; if they have not done so already.

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