Published: 18:47, 22 November 2020
| Updated: 18:52, 22 November 2020
Plans to force hauliers to have a permit to enter Kent on route to the Channel ports will take a major step forward this week.
MPs are expected to back the proposal in Parliament tomorrow as the government steps up the pace of preparations for Brexit with the deadline for the UK's departure from the EU looming.
A requirement to have the Kent Access Permit is among a range of measures the government is taking to minimise delays and disruption on the county’s road network. Hauliers moving goods to the EU face fines of £300 if they do not have the permit.
Lorry drivers without the permit can expect to be turned back and directed to one of the holding areas being set up in the county.
It comes as KentOnline has learned private contractors are to be hired to assist Kent Police in managing the traffic in the event of queues building up on the M20 and other key roads.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed contracts will be offered to private companies but declined to provide any details on either the cost or potential numbers of additional workers.
It said the procurement process, which is being handled by Kent County Council on behalf of Kent Police, was not yet complete and disclosure of details could be prejudicial.
The potential deployment of extra personnel underlines the concerns of authorities that despite a publicity drive and public information blizzard, the impact of Brexit has not yet been fully realised by the haulage industry.
Kent Police stressed that if extra workers were brought in, they would not be involved in any enforcement action, such as issuing fines.
Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix said: “Kent Police is working closely with its partner agencies within the Kent Resilience Forum to prepare for the end of the EU transition period and minimise any related traffic disruption that may occur.”
“To make the best use of Kent Police resources, the Department for Transport has agreed to fund the provision of private contractors to carry out roles that do not require police officers, such as directing traffic at roundabouts and junctions to assist with the smooth movement of freight to the ports. The procurement process for this is being carried out by Kent County Council and is expected to be complete by the end of the year.”
She added: “Any enforcement of legislation including the issuing of fines to those who do not have the necessary documentation to leave the UK will continue to be dealt with by Kent Police officers with assistance from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.”
A statement from the DfT said: “The specifics of these arrangements are still being finalised and are subject to commercial negotiations and therefore we are unable to confirm any further details at this stage.”
But the recruitment of workers from private companies has been questioned by some.
Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, a Labour member of Gravesham council who also sits on the Kent and Medway Police and Crime Panel, said: “My view is that if private contractors are carrying out duties that are usually in the powers and gift of our police services - and this includes directing traffic which is a police power - then they should be given the additional numbers and resources to ensure they are able to carry this out without any detrimental impact on delivering policing across Kent.”
Aspects of the government's preparations have come under fire in recent weeks, with claims new IT systems the haulage industry is expected to use for Customs declarations has yet to be fully tested and is unreliable.
Transport minister Grant Shapps said last month the UK faced "an important moment of change" and the risks of disruption needed to be addressed "should they occur."
According to the government's own "worst case scenario" an estimated 7,000 vehicles could be stacked up on Kent's roads based on a cut of between 60% to 80%of usual freight flows once the transition period ends.