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Key Brexit software won’t be ready on time

Developers warn.
Image: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Vital software needed to keep goods flowing after Brexit won’t be ready in time because the UK government hasn’t given developers the information they need, according to a trade group.

The Association of Freight Software Suppliers, whose members develop programs that plug businesses into the government’s customs systems, has written to the UK tax authority warning that the industry doesn’t have enough time to build and test new software by the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

Developers “will not get the detailed specifications they need to allow them to produce the required functionality in time,” AFSS Chairman Stephen Bartlett said in a statement. He added that it is “unrealistic” to expect users to be trained up on the new software by the year-end.

The warning highlights how Britain’s departure from the EU’s single market and customs union poses a risk to the smooth flow of goods between the UK and the European Union, its biggest and closest trading partner. Businesses will have to grapple with additional customs checks and processes that they haven’t had to go through for a generation.

The trade group, which is a member of HMRC’s Joint Customs Consultative Committee, called on the UK tax authority to step up its contingency planning to mitigate potential disruption at the year-end.

“The delivery of HMRC border systems necessary for the end of the transition period is on track,” Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs said in a statement. “We are continuing to engage extensively with the software developer community and community system providers to ensure that they have everything they need.”

Contingency plans

HMRC said it’s exploring contingency plans to ensure the largest number of businesses can continue to move goods across the country’s borders.

The AFSS highlighted the situation in Northern Ireland, where companies will need to submit data to the Customs Declaration Service to move freight across the Irish Sea.

The government is using the CDS instead of an older system, the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight service, or CHIEF, because the newer system has the ability to apply two different tariff rates to a product.

That facility is needed because some goods crossing from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland will be deemed at risk of moving on to the Republic of Ireland, and therefore liable for tariffs in the event Britain and the EU fail to strike a trade deal.

The problem for the software developers is that Britain and the EU are still negotiating how trade with Northern Ireland will work — including which goods will be liable for tariffs.

The CDS “program’s current delivery plan is too late,” Bartlett said. As many organisations don’t allow changes to their IT systems in December and January, “it may be impossible to roll out any new software,” he added.

The government has said it will support companies through the transition with a free-to-use service which will submit customs declarations to the CDS on behalf of businesses.

The systems are just part of the jigsaw of software projects that the government needs to have ready in time for the year-end. The other pieces include a digital permit that will allow trucks to enter Kent, as well as the Goods Vehicle Movement Service, which will control the flow of trucks between the UK and EU from July.

© 2020 Bloomberg

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