There are less than two months to go before the UK departs its 40-year relationship with the EU and it is still working on the IT systems needed to make the new arrangement work.
According to a report from the Institute for Government [PDF], one of the IT systems vital to cross-border commerce is still being tested and is not ready to roll out.
The Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) is set to handle trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and transit traffic crossing the GB-EU border from January.
"Existing IT systems need to be upgraded and new ones built. Most are ready but GVMS, critical for facilitating customs checks at the main Channel ports, is still being tested and has not yet been formally launched," according to the report Preparing Brexit: How ready is the UK?
"GVMS does not currently produce a single barcode that can be easily and quickly scanned, delaying the movement of goods through ports. Full scale end-to-end testing has yet to take place and is not due to be complete until 4 December, less than a month before some firms will be expected to use it. Businesses are also worried that there is little time left for them to learn how to use the system and link it to their own internal computer systems – reducing its effectiveness."
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Meanwhile, other upgrade programmes have come under pressure because of Brexit.
The Customs Declarations Service (CDS) was originally due to replace the UK's main system for customs declarations – the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system – from January 2019 but it has been repeatedly delayed. CHIEF will continue to be used for most trade at the GB-EU border.
In July, the UK government earmarked £115m for new IT systems to help with the management of customs arrangements, including the CHIEF and CDS software.
"Few traders currently have experience of using CDS, and those carrying out both GB–NI and GB–EU trade will need to input into both systems from January," the report said. "While the government is confident the service is on track to handle customs declarations at the GB-NI border from January, the Association of Freight Software Suppliers believes final details may be delivered too late for companies to adapt their internal IT systems by January."
Then there is Smart Freight, the system supposed to help HGV drivers understand if they are ready to cross the border into the EU. It is still in beta, although the government insists that means it is actually ready to be operational.
To add to the confusion, or perhaps save embarrassment, Smart Freight has been renamed the "Check an HGV is Ready to Cross the Border" service. No, really.
"The government is developing a new 'Check an HGV is Ready to Cross the Border' tool to ensure lorry drivers are ready for customs checks and avoid unprepared lorries causing disruption – but is only just making it available to traders," the report continued.
Trade associations, including Logistics UK, have argued this gives transport companies scant time to test the system against their own working practices and introduce new business processes where necessary.
The local IT supply chain also remains unconvinced that Brexit will run smoothly given the lack of information to help IT distributors and resellers prepare for the final heave ho. ®