Despite some Windsor Framework clarity, Northern Irish hauliers are still navigating uncertainty and costly bureaucracy
Photo: Glen Wallace / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite some Windsor Framework clarity, Northern Irish hauliers are still navigating uncertainty and costly bureaucracy

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Gregor Gowans

Gregor Gowans

Journalist Trans.INFO


Despite some Windsor Framework clarity, Northern Irish hauliers are still navigating uncertainty and costly bureaucracy
Photo: Glen Wallace / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

In February of this year, the UK and EU signed the Windsor Framework agreement, which the UK Government says “fundamentally amends the text and provisions of the original Protocol to uphold Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom.” Although the agreement has largely (but not exclusively) been welcomed, it appears that some of the issues that have plagued Northern-Irish hauliers post-Brexit still remain. In addition, despite some matters being clarified, there is also still a degree of uncertainty in some quarters about how the changes will actually work in practice.

The amended agreement will see a virtual system of green and red lanes introduced for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, with the green lanes dedicated to goods intended for end consumption in Northern Ireland.

As the UK Government explains, traders who join the Internal Market Scheme will be able to declare their goods as ‘not at risk’ if they are brought into Northern Ireland for sale or final use by end consumers in the UK.

‘Not at risk’ goods will not be charged duty if entering Northern Ireland from free circulation in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). They will, however, be charged UK duty if entering Northern Ireland from outside the EU and the UK. They will also be charged UK duty if entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and the goods were not in free circulation in Great Britain. Finally, ‘At risk’ goods will be charged the applicable EU duty.

Since the initial announcement, businesses have had time to study the nitty-gritty of the legal text, spawning a number of concerns. Many of those worries were highlighted in a recent House of Lords report that was published a month ago.

The report contains numerous quotes from hauliers, traders and industry bodies on the ins and outs of the green and red lane system. Hauliers focused on groupage, as well as businesses sourcing meat and dairy products from Great Britain, told the House of Lord’s European Affairs Committee of their understanding that most of their transports would have to go through the red lane.

On August 11th, the RHA also said it was awaiting officials to spell out the following concerns of its members:

  • Who will run the Trusted Trader Scheme and what are the costs involved?
  • How long will the government fund the TSS – the Trader Support Service?
  • How will the red and green lanes work in practice, especially where groupage loads are concerned?

Among those members is Mark Tait of Target Transport. In the aforementioned House of Lords report, Tait said that those “bringing multiple pallets on multiple products from multiple customers … are now concerned that we could end up red-laning every item of freight that we move.”

Since then, however, Tait has told trans.iNFO that following meetings with Cabinet Office and the RHA, it has become clear that the amount of red-laning looks like it won’t be as severe as had been feared.

When asked about the possibility of almost every truckload getting red laned, Tait told trans.iNFO:

“That was our understanding if you read the legal text, especially if you read the text from the EU side, which, with all due respect, is where the real data came from.

Myself as part of the RHA, we’ve had a couple of working group meetings with the Cabinet Office and the Windsor Framework task force over the past couple of months. We actually had a meeting yesterday, and there was some clarity on that [what will be green and red-laned].

We were concerned about what you said [most trucks being red-laned], but we have had clarity now that it is not the case that commercial goods won’t be green-laned at all.

A consumer can be a business, so basically a business in GB can be selling to another business in Northern Ireland that ultimately sells that onto a further business in Northern Ireland. So the importer can say all I’m doing is selling goods into Northern Ireland and that means then that potentially yes, the green lane can be used.

There are obviously a lot of variables here that we’re still not 100% sure on, and won’t become clear until we really see how things operate in practice. The traders’ point of view is obviously totally different from the hauliers’ point of view too. There’s a lot of questions that we’ve been asking about the actual green and red lane processes themselves.

So it’s not necessarily as clear cut as we thought it was when we were worried everything was going to go to the red lane. We had understood that because a customer couldn’t say that they were definitely selling to someone in Northern Ireland, they would have to red-lane everything. That’s not necessarily the case though, as from what we gather, it is the trader’s responsibility to determine whether goods are ready for the green lane, not not ourselves.”

According to Tait, hauliers have been assured that everything is virtual and that the likelihood of physical checks will be minimal. However, this appears to be at odds with what officials from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs have indicated. The haulage boss adds that until Windsor Framework actually applies, we won’t know.

One thing that is clear, however, is that some of bureaucratic burden hauliers are dealing with at the moment shall remain:

“Everything we do now, when the Windsor framework kicks in, we’ll still have to do. So all the bureaucracy remains. Things will look slightly different whether there is a green lane process or a red lane process, but it’s like semantics in some way, because there’s still a process regardless. So the data might look slightly different on the green lane compared to the red one, but from the haulage point of view, everything that we do now we will continue to do. That’s the big argument we’ve had as small businesses,” Tait told trans.iNFO.

Tait also called for digitalised solutions to be implemented that will actually address the issues and to streamline the above processes, and spelled out how the extra paperwork is adding costs that will ultimately have to passed on to consumers:

“When it comes to groupage, I could have one trailer that has 60 different consignments, for 60 different customers on it, which requires me to do 60 different customs declarations, frontier declarations and so on. All just to get all those goods onto one vehicle so I can move them. That’s an awful lot of pain.

We were asking why can’t software be developed to help us in certain areas? I think we’re sort of in this infancy stage at the moment. The cabinet officer was saying that for those not working with SPS goods, a lot of the processes won’t kick in for another year. We were saying that that’s fair enough, but we’re still having to do a lot of work even now.

It’s a work in progress to see if we can get some workarounds. My argument is that if you look at current arrangements for your tax, they’ve been made digital. You have real time information for payroll and a lot of other stuff that’s all integrated with HMRC systems. Why not have something similar in place to help the haulage industry here?

For us, it’s time, and time is money. The more time you spend doing something, you then have to charge customers for the fulfilment of those bureaucratic requirements. Although the trader support service is as advertised as free-to-use service, it’s not free for us to administer. We have networks in GB that have been employing staff through the night to complete a lot of entry uploads so the freight can move. Naturally, you have to pay those guys. If nothing changes for the haulage industry, we cannot remove those bureaucratic charges.”

The grace period for parcels still remains at the moment, which Tait stresses is a big saving for” his company. But that will change under the Windsor Framework next year, and Tait says some of customers are nervous about how those changes might look like in practice:

“As a freight forwarder, we do a lot of PARCEL work. What that will actually look like next year, I don’t know. If I look at the processes for exporting from GB to ROI, in 2021 we were moving parcels from Birmingham to Dublin that could have sat for three weeks in customs. Will the same happen when the customs checks are imposed in Belfast? I presume the UK Government and the EU will work through things so that it doesn’t, but we just don’t know until it happens.

I have customers worried about that because we do a lot of next-day freight. They are concerned that if they can’t get goods in and out in a just-in-time manner it will have an impact on them.”

The uncertainty is also arguably having an impact on Target Transport’s ability to attract new business on GB-NI routes, as Tait explains:

“In terms of picking up new business. I don’t think I’ve picked up any new business from anybody in GB that wants to ship into Northern Ireland. We’re lucky that we do have a reasonable customer base for a company our size – we’re doing okay. There is a real worry though that if things were to affect our customers, then it would in turn affect us as they would move less goods and we’d have less work.”

Tait added:

“It’s unclear going forward exactly what’s going to happen – that’s the worry. Most businesses try and plan ahead six months or a year at a time, whether it be investments or anything else. From the haulage point of view, if our customers aren’t making those commitments, it impacts us too as we don’t know what will happen in terms of freight volumes and movements and so on.

We’re moving stuff at the minute that involves us having to itemise 40 or 50 different products on one pallet. It’s very complex and time consuming. I think the green lane may ease that from the trader’s perspective, but from a haulier’s point of view, we’re still not too sure yet as we need to see the exact process. At this moment in time, if you logged into the trader’s support service – all those processes are still there and we haven’t seen any changes to them. They may tweak it from time to time, but they haven’t done a webinar or a show-and-tell to explain, for instance, what box A and box B, and what they mean. We don’t know that yet.”

Photo: / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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