Opinion: The worst is yet to come, says PML’s Mike Parr

Gridlocked roads, chaos and disastrous border delays continue to hit the headlines and according to PML’s managing director, Mike Parr, the worst is yet to come.

At the Port of Dover alone, miles of queuing HGV traffic on the approach to the port has become the norm since the beginning of the year because of the new customs paperwork for goods being exported out of, or imported into, the UK. Lorries are now required to use the Goods Vehicle Movement System (GVMS) in order to move through customs with any customs documentation needing to be completed before the vehicle boards the ferry, in contrast to the pre-Brexit system which allowed for any accompanying paperwork to be submitted up to two months afterwards.

The situation was clearly not helped by the crashing of the new GVMS system on day 1 and the resulting teething problems such as drivers being denied permission to make a trip following reference codes being rejected by the system or firms experiencing difficulties in uploading the necessary information - has done little to inspire confidence within the industry.

According to Parr, the government is simply not up to speed with the number of officers that are available to carry out inspections and this is causing a major problem at the ports.

Citing a prime example of this Parr revealed that a recent PML consignment of fresh raspberries, which arrived at the port at 3pm, was not inspected until 10.00am the next morning. The fallout from this is clear, perishable goods – which are heavily marketed as ‘fresh’ - being exposed to a delay of almost 20 hours is totally unacceptable and will naturally impact on relations with the retailer. The lorry being held at the port for such a long time contributes to the build-up of traffic, but also causes the driver unnecessary stress and the inability to take the appropriate rest break as he / she is expected to sit it out and wait for the product to be examined. And of course, ultimately it is the haulier who bears the brunt of the problem resulting in significant financial losses.

Parr believes that the situation is only destined to further deteriorate, as currently imports from the EU are only subject to successful processing using the GVMS, but from 1st July, physical inspections at a Border Inspection Post will be introduced for all inbound products from the EU – such as live animals, meat products and high-risk non animal foods -putting further pressure on what is already a stretched resource.

Commenting Parr said, “There's a lot worse to come and I don't think anybody realises this. Everything that I’ve predicted to date has come true. We warned there would be delays, which there have been. But I'm dreading the point at which EU products start to be examined, because right now there are already insufficient staff available. How are inspectors going to cope with the extra workload associated with examining every single meat, fish, dairy product from the EU on top of their existing responsibilities?”

Parr believes that the planned current infrastructure and staffing to support Dover and Folkestone is inadequate and will be unable to successfully process the extensive volume of traffic. “The existing Inland Border Facilities are not capable of handling the vast number of checks that are going to be required from July, yet when we applied for our Kent transport and logistics hub to be considered to alleviate the strain, our submission was rejected. Private companies need to be allowed to operate in this sector if we are to prevent further disruption. Our government’s handling of imports and exports post Brexit has been shambolic, there is a real sense within the industry that they really don’t understand the business and the consequences of their decisions.”

Parr continues, “We should look at Holland who have a system in place whereby customs and port health are given a certain amount of time to come and examine the vehicle and if it is not completed within the allocated time frame, it is classed as cleared and the driver is free to continue his / her journey. Perhaps our government could contemplate a similar system – or failing that train a lot more staff.

Unfortunately, at this point, with 1st July looming, regardless of what approach is taken, we just don’t have time on our side. If anyone thinks the queues are bad now, wait until the checks come into force as it will be ten times worse. Urgent action is required to enable those involved in the food supply chain to deliver a seamless, timely service to maintain the supply of essential products.”