Saturday 27 February 2021

Delays follow Brexit transition end as Covid crisis rolls on

The combination of new paperwork requirements owing to changed regulations post-Brexit transition, and the increased severity of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, was continuing to pose major logistical hurdles for international fleets at the time of publication in late January.

While the levels of queuing at the border seen prior to Christmas had abated, operators continued to report delays owing to additional requirements for paperwork and Covid-19 tests.

The Road Haulage Association said it was “absolutely vital” that all CV drivers travelling to the European Union were prepared for new paperwork and customs checks.

Drivers were also being reminded that proof of negative Covid tests were required before entering France and several other European countries, and that a Kent Access Permit was required for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes to travel through the county and on to the EU.

Applicants for the permits needed to submit a self-assessment for compliance with EU import rules, verify that they were in possession of the necessary customs and export documents, and prove they met customs declaration requirements, prior to travel to ports.

A decision by government to introduce fines for HGV drivers entering Kent without a negative Covid test was criticised by Logistics UK (formerly the Freight Transport Association), with policy director Elizabeth de Jong warning it would place “unfair costs” on those “working hard to keep the economy stocked with the goods and services it needs”.

“While we agree that tests should take place outside of Kent to reduce traffic congestion, we need absolute assurance from government that this will only be implemented when inland testing sites around the country have proven capacity to meet the demand for tests,” she said.

“Capacity must be increased before any change in legislation can be implemented.”

To help prevent costs and delays associated with testing, Logistics UK called on the government to prioritise the rollout of vaccines to drivers and other logistics workers.

“It is also imperative that international hauliers based in Kent still have access to testing within the county, to prevent unnecessary detours away from the border, and that there is also capacity to test those arriving in Kent without a valid negative test,” de Jong added.

With the Covid situation changing daily, readers are advised to keep apprised via government and trade association sources.

Meanwhile, the financial cost of Brexit was beginning to bite. The fees payable for shipping a truckload of freight from Germany to the UK reportedly rose by 26 per cent in the first week of 2021 compared to the average for the third quarter of last year, according to the German transport management platform Transporeon.

Import costs from France were up 39 per cent – blamed on high volumes of substandard paperwork – and from Italy, nine per cent, as compared to only one per cent from Poland.

“There is a strong possibility that some of these price increases will stay around,” said Stephan Sieber, chief executive of Transporeon. “I can tell you with quite a lot of certainty that this is not just seasonality.”

Imports had risen late in 2020 due to the stockpiling of goods, including by supermarkets, as the end of the Brexit transition period approached. Following this, a drop in imports as the New Year rolled in had eased border pressures, but Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove conceded that businesses would face “significant disruption” in the first weeks of 2021 following the last-minute EU/UK trade deal, as importers and exporters adjusted to the new border arrangements.

An estimated 220 million new forms may be required each year for UK/EU trade purposes, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has suggested.

Nightmare before Christmas

In the midst of the Covid port crisis, at a point when Boris Johnson claimed that only 174 trucks were trapped, there were already over 1,000 parked on the M20 alone, according to expat Polish truck driver turned journalist Tomasz Oryński, who was reporting for Polish newspaper Super Nowości.

According to the Orynski.eu blog, the situation then rapidly developed into one even more chaotic than was reported in the British press at the time. Trucks and drivers were held with minimal facilities at the old Manston airfield, and given poorly translated written instructions which included an order not to transfer ‘tracked armoured fighting vehicles’.

Drivers were not allowed off the site to shop, and nor were they allowed to cook. There was no food or water supplied. A near riot was only avoided after the airfield was visited by a Polish diplomat.

Representatives of Britain’s Sikh community came from as far away as Coventry to provide some drivers with sustenance, and Polish expats resorted to ripping a hole in the airfield fence to pass through supplies after they were turned away from the gate.

Drivers on the M20 told Oryński that Covid testing only started after they blocked the opposite side of the motorway. Even when Covid testing was established, the chaos continued. Having been given the wrong postcode for a makeshift Covid test centre, 30 truck drivers found themselves circulating the small Kent village of Mersham while bemused residents filmed them.

The postcode instructions were intended to direct trucks to the Sevington Inland Border Facility being hastily constructed to give them somewhere to park while their export paperwork for the Channel Tunnel was processed.

Project Fear a reality in Northern Ireland

The introduction of fresh border arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland had been leading to food shortages in the province, with BBC News reporting that staff in supermarkets were rearranging stock so gaps were not too obvious on shelves, in an attempt to avoid triggering panicbuying.

Major supermarkets warned government that an “urgent intervention” was required to avoid further supply chain disruption in Northern Ireland. Groupage is a particular issue, as different fresh, chilled and frozen products such as meat, milk and fish now require certification by vets when moving from the UK to Northern Ireland, as the province remains in the single European market for goods.

Once the product is approved, the trailer is supposed to be sealed: but if the trailer is picking up different products from multiple locations, every time the door seal is broken to load more, the entire cargo must be recertified. Faced with this, many hauliers had ceased to accept groupage loads of foodstuff for Northern Ireland.

The situation is likely to get worse in the second quarter of the year, as more stringent regulations are introduced. While the UK government is hoping to introduce a new protocol that would allow individual pallets to be certified, wrapped and sealed in groupage loads, stricter regulations covering dry goods such as canned food will be enforced from April.

Meanwhile, individual fleets were adapting to the unfolding situation. Deutsche Bahn’s logistics subsidiary DB Schenker temporarily suspended transport of UKbound consignments because of what it called “enormous bureaucratic regulations” posttransition, reporting that only around 10 per cent of the goods it accepted for the UK had the correct documentation. Parcels company DPD also temporarily suspended UK-to-EU deliveries for the same reasons.

International logistics specialist Europa Worldwide Group reported it had invested millions of pounds and recruited over a dozen staff in the last year as it sought to avoid Brexit delays in 2021. Europa injected over £2 million into its Dartford transit warehouse to increase racking capacity by 75 per cent, and also supported customers through dedicated Brexit workshops across the UK.

Dionne Redpath, sales and branch network director of Europa Road, said: “The decision to further expand our Europa Road team, with the appointment of a national customs compliance manager and customs supervisors, means that both Europa and our customers will be in the strongest position possible.”

In other news, Brittany Ferries has returned the dedicated freight ferry Cotentin to the Poole-Cherbourg crossing from a charter operation in the Baltic. The ship’s 120-truck capacity makes it the largest on the Channel, and it offers a cabin for every driver.

Cotentin operates as part of a contract secured by Brittany Ferries with the UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) to support the smooth transit of essential freight away from the troubled short sea routes. The arrangement guarantees space on two routes for goods including medical supplies on shipment between the EU and UK.

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