Published: 16:58, 16 November 2020
| Updated: 17:04, 16 November 2020
Port and industry chiefs have expressed frustration over a government cash fund to help them prepare for when the Brexit transition period ends.
The government has set aside £200m of a £470m fund for ports to build facilities to enable them to process goods coming to and going from the UK after Brexit.
But with the clock ticking towards the UK's departure from the EU, ports who had applied for a share of the funding are still waiting to hear if they are to get any money.
The revelation came at a meeting of the House of Lords Select Committee on EU Goods which is examining how prepared the industry is for Brexit after the transition period ends next year.
Asked how effective the fund had been in helping ports prepare, chief executive of UK Major Ports Group Tim Morris said: “It is too early to tell. We don't know yet the extent to which they have been successful. The one significant concern is that we do know that element of the fund is oversubscribed; more ports have put in bids than there is money for. Hopefully the government will see the rationale for [more] funding to ensure all ports have adequate infrastructure.”
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said the fund had probably come too late and the delay in allocations would push up the costs of building border controls.
“We are keen for the government to look at increasing funding so all these projects can be met. Will it be ready is a bigger question; it is probably fair to say that not all of it will. This is challenging a lot of Port operators across the country.”
“We are confident that the bits we are responsible for will be working perfectly from January..."
Lord Lilley, a Conservative peer on the committee said it was breathtaking that given that it was four years since the Brexit referendum, the UK was still waiting for decisions on funding for ports.
The government's Port Infrastructure Fund is aimed at those ports that have the space to build new border infrastructure on their current sites so they are ready to handle new customs requirements under the new Border Operating Model.
The funding can be used for a range of vital port infrastructure, from warehouses and control posts to traffic management systems.
John Keefe, Director of Public Affairs, Getlink, the company that owns Eurotunnel, said there were concerns some of the new systems to be put in place had not yet been properly tested.
Asked how confident he was that Eurotunnel was ready, he said: “We are confident that the bits we are responsible for will be working perfectly from January; I have to say that given the GVMS system [Goods Vehicles Movement System] is still in development and some other systems that the UK government is developing currently haven't been tested in real life and is planned for December, there has to be a degree or concern as to whether they will be fully ready in time.”
GVMS allows hauliers' customs declarations to be prelodged and cleared en route to help reduce queues at the border. If it's not done in time, the driver gets a message telling him he must go to a customs clearance site at Ashford or Dover.
But peers on the EU Goods select committee were provided with a more optimistic view from the man in charge of Calais port, who was also giving evidence. Jean-Marc Puissesseau, Chief Executive, Port of Calais said that if hauliers ensured they had their paperwork in place and it complied with the French requirements, there was no reason for delays.
He said:“If these declarations are made there should not be any problem. Everything has been prepared and we are not worried.”
He said the port of Calais was prepared to stop HGVs if they did not have proper clearance but said that hauliers that failed to have the right papers first time would not repeat the mistake.