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Stuck in a queue with just a portaloo

[ January 20, 2021   //   ]

The welfare of drivers stuck in queues trying to cross the Channel has become the biggest Brexit issue, says express courier firm Speedy Freight.

Its drivers report that facilities are not adequate for either the number of drivers delayed, or the length of time drivers are forced to wait. One driver reported at Ebbsfleet that there were no food facilities at all, only water on request, outdoor chemical toilets, hand washing facilities and only a single port-a-cabin to process paperwork, forcing drivers to wait for hours at a time.

The company added: “This is after 48 hours held up in Sevington where the customs agents couldn’t resolve a system issue, as result of software issues and agents not being fully trained. This same issue occurred at Ebbsfleet, despite Speedy Freight drivers turning up with all the correct paperwork, having followed the procedures set out by the government. Customs marshals also asked HGV drivers to switch off their generators, meaning cold supplies were at risk of spoiling during the wait, and drivers were left to sit, and sleep, in sub-zero conditions.”

According to , Speedy Freight’s network service manager and head of the Brexit team, Shona Brown  added: “At the moment, the poor welfare standards for drivers is one of our biggest concerns. Aside from the obvious concern for our drivers, this has the potential to develop into a much bigger issue for supply chains up and down the country. If driver welfare continues to suffer, then more and more drivers will simply not agree to carry out jobs to and from Europe, leading to a massive resourcing issue. The quickest and easiest way to ensure that doesn’t happen is for the government to make changes to the facilities ASAP.” 

Speedy Freight is also concerned about the persistent technical issues at the border. One of its franchise s, Joe Cross was forced to personally carry out a 300-mile round trip to resolve an issue with an urgent shipment of COVID testing equipment, which was delayed on route to Austria. Joe had to travel from Swindon, initially to the Southampton Customs advice location, and then onto Ebbsfleet Inland Border Facility, where he spent five hours, working with the customs agent to resolve a customs system technical issue that had ended up causing a 48-hour delay.

In this instance, the Local Reference Number, which contains each driver’s trailer/registration number and destination, was not recognised by customs officials, despite it being produced by HMRC’s own NCTS system.

Lack of translation facilities makes resolving issues challenging for non English speaking drivers. 

Brown said: “In this instance, we were lucky that Joe was on hand to personally resolve the issue, but this isn’t a practical solution in the long term. When we were in the transition period, we expected border delays, but we expected that the delays would be caused by drivers or customers not filling out the correct paperwork. When we, and our clients have submitted all the correct information and are still met with delays, it can get frustrating and costly, in terms of both time and money. Every day a vehicle is sat waiting at the border it can cost upwards of £200, and if we’ve got an articulated lorry stuck, it can cost up to £1,000 per day…We hope the issues faced will be resolved promptly.”

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