Challenges at the End of the Brexit Transition Period

The pandemics impact on our daily lives and the economy has been devastating for many but for the varied businesses in logistics its impacts have differed depending on the sectors they serviced and commodities transported. The fine line of success or failure was the lottery of who your client base consisted of.

At perhaps the worst possible timing, logistics operators were also having to plan for the changes on how we move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1st January 2021.

Because the NI Protocol has been a source of contention and repeated negotiation between the UK and EU, clarity has been lacking around the new procedures that will be required.

The lack of preparation can be seen at our three Ports where the Border Control Posts, that are due to be operational for the start of the NI Protocol for the management of SPS goods (plant and animal origin) into NI from GB, were only awarded tender for construction in October 2020 with no work begun to date.

Logistics UK has consistently requested from both the UK and EU that a period of grace or implementation period is agreed for the start of 2021 to enable the continuity of vital retail trade and that a Retail Movement System (RMS) is enabled and implemented. This would reduce the formalities and costs for such trusted traders thus ensuring our retail supply chains between GB and NI are uninterrupted as much as possible.

The importance of getting such derogation is reflected in the fact that 65% of all trade by value from GB to NI is destined for retail and wholesale with the vast majority being food products, if we can ease the movement of these supply chains, then the remaining 35% can be more efficiently managed. On top of this we have operators in the parcel sector moving up to 5,000 parcels per trailer, the GVMS needs updated to accommodate these loads but more importantly we need a facilitation to make their journeys easier otherwise we risk some online retailers either having to impose surcharges on NI deliveries or withdraw from the NI market.

Ferries & Freight

The issue of transit is also an ongoing matter and we have been busy in recent months highlighting the importance of the Dublin – Holyhead route for NI trade.

In 2019, a total number of 1,834,230 freight units shipped RoRo across the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland with the three NI ports handling 46% of it (851,940). The NI Department for Economy recently concluded from its own research that 20% of trade shipped RoRo through Dublin is actually NI trade which isn’t a surprise to many of us who understand its importance.

That means that although NI only represents 37% of the population on the Island, we account for 57% of the RoRo freight traffic between Ireland and Great Britain. Using evidence like this has demonstrated to UK officials on the need to ensure any friction and checks at Ports like Holyhead is kept to a minimum because quite simply, the NI trade that uses that route would struggle to meet transit KPI’s going on other routes.

Lack of Information

The NI Business Brexit Working Group (NIBBWG) that I am a member of along with the NI Chamber of Commerce, FSB, Ulster Farmers Union, CBI, IOD, NI Retail Consortium and Manufacturing NI have worked extensively on Brexit this year with regular political meetings with local parties, HMRC, UK government and engagement with EU and Irish government officials.

We recently sent out a survey to all of our members and the responses highlighted some concerning findings. Only 18% of respondents said they were ready for the end of the transition period with 48% saying no and 18% unsure.

The most common reason for this was the lack of information from government. The biggest concerns from respondents were the potential for disruption at Ports and the new customs processes for GB to NI.

At the time of writing this the UK and EU are intense negotiations so I really hope that by the time you are reading this that we have more clarity and assurances on how we can continue.

If 2020 was the year of reacting, 2021 looks to be the year for adapting due to the involuntary changes that Covid and Brexit have brought us.

Local infrastructure 

In better news, it was good to see the new section of A6 upgrade between Toomebridge and Castledawson open to traffic on the 23rd November. Regular readers of Export & Freight will know about our consistent lobbying for this upgrade over the years and it great to see it take shape.

The 3.1 mile section is restricted to one lane being opened in each direction for now but should be fully open by March 2021. This is the final part of the overall Randalstown to Castledawson section to be completed and it’s certainly come a long way from the long legal delays due to local swans potentially being affected. The good news is the swans have continued to return and they seem happy!

The next section of the A6 that is being upgraded to a dual carriageway is the 15 mile stretch between Dungiven and Drumahoe. Work is well underway on this section and its due to be completed in 2023. This can’t come soon enough as it will improve efficiency and road safety for goods vehicles servicing the North West.

On an even wider scale of infrastructure, I was recently invited to a roundtable meeting with Sir Peter Hendy who is tasked with conducting a review of union connectivity within the UK. A call for evidence closed at the end of December and the purpose
of this review is to determine what infrastructure improvements would best serve connectivity between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.