Lack of pace in some government preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period could put the UK’s interconnected supply chain at risk, according to Logistics UK, the business group which represents the sector. While some of the systems being developed to manage the flow of goods and border processes are making good progress, the industry is concerned that the new Smart Freight system – which will need to be used by every company involved in exporting goods to the EU – will not be ready in time for adequate testing and staff training.

“Despite the government’s assertion that the Smart Freight software will be ready before 1 January 2021, this timeline fails to take into account the time it will take for transport companies, their customers, subcontractors and customs intermediaries to agree and co-ordinate the necessary business processes at the right time to gain access to the border,” explains Sarah Laouadi, European Policy Manager at Logistics UK, “We are concerned that mass user testing of the software will not be possible until October – or maybe even November: this is far too late for the thousands of companies and tens of thousands of people who build our complex supply chains to redesign their own processes and contractual relations before the Transition Period ends. This timeline brings Smart Freight onstream at the height of the Christmas peak – traditionally the busiest time of year for the logistics industry – the worst possible time for our members to test and train staff in new working practices.

“Even if the software is ready by the end of the year, the government’s plans ignore the users’ perspective – our members will need time to learn the new system, adopt it and help to iron out any potential issues in the system. This will leave logistics businesses carrying the can for the government’s failure to plan in a timely fashion – something we have been warning about for some time now.”

As Ms Laouadi continues, logistics operators are keen to do their part to ensure that trade can continue to move freely across the UK’s borders, but also expect more from the government: “We need the means to remedy the border readiness issues Smart Freight is intended to flag, as well as a much more joined-up and streamlined approach to the border with fewer, integrated systems. Without time to plan and implement new systems, the sector is being set up to fail at the start of the New Year, which is not what we expect or deserve.”

Smart Freight is one of eight IT systems which hauliers will need to use to move goods to and from Europe after 31 December 2020: these include four UK systems, and up to four other EU country IT systems, depending on their route and goods to be transported. Logistics UK has signed a joint letter to Michael Gove MP alongside other logistics industry bodies, requesting that the Smart Freight development be speeded up.

Logistics UK (formerly FTA) is one of the UK’s leading business groups, representing logistics businesses which are vital to keeping the UK trading, and more than seven million people directly employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With COVID-19, Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc. Logistics UK supports, shapes and stands up for safe and efficient logistics, and is the only business group which represents the whole industry, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers whose businesses depend on the efficient movement of goods. For more information about the organisation and its work, including its ground-breaking research into the impacts of COVID-19 on the whole supply chain, please visit logistics.org.uk