Three in 10 UK firms are “not at all prepared” for new customs arrangements for EU imports due in two weeks, according to research.
Post-Brexit customs arrangements set to come into force on 1 January 2022 will mean businesses face greater scrutiny and paperwork.
Businesses will no longer be able to delay making import customs declarations for EU goods, and will instead have to make declarations and pay relevant tariffs at the point of entry.
In a poll of 580 business leaders for the Institute of Directors (IoD), 30% of relevant businesses described themselves as “not at all prepared” for these changes.
While 51% of affected businesses said they were “somewhat prepared,” only 19% said they felt “very prepared”.
Kitty Ussher, chief economist at the IoD, said: “In under three weeks’ time, significant changes to our customs arrangements are going to be introduced, for which a large portion of businesses are either unprepared or simply unaware. This will exacerbate existing supply chain problems, leading to further congestion at ports, as well as extra costs from accidental non-compliance for many businesses.
“Government needs to ramp up an awareness and advertising campaign around these changes, simplifying the guidance, so that all importing businesses feel confident they know how to keep supplies flowing into the new year.”
Further research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found only one in four (25%) small importers impacted by the changes, and aware of them, are ready.
One in eight (16%) of 128 importers surveyed said they were unable to prepare for the introduction of checks in the current climate.
A third (33%) said they were unaware of the changes prior to the FSB study, but will be affected by them.
FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “Given the turmoil of the past 18 months, new concerns about the spread of Covid, and this being the busiest time of year for many, it’s understandable that few firms are fully prepared for the introduction of import controls from January.
“What we’re saying to firms is: there’s still time to act. Speak to suppliers to ensure you have all you need to make declarations, consider alternative providers if that looks like an efficient way forward, and think about different transportation routes.
“We’re urging the government to do all it can to raise awareness, with our support, through every channel available to it in a climate where a lot of small firms simply don’t have the cash or bandwidth to manage this new red tape.”
Cherry criticised government action to support small businesses, and called on government to introduce greater funding to ease pressure on businesses.
He said: “Too little support was made possible by the first iteration of the SME Brexit Support Fund due to narrow eligibility criteria and application timeframes. Policymakers should learn lessons from that process and launch a new fund, with the same aim of helping existing international businesses with growing admin, and inspiring new ones, but with a truly global focus.
“What we need now, as these stark figures demonstrate, is an Import Support Service to empower firms with the guidance and information they require to successfully navigate global trade as it evolves.”
A government spokesperson told Supply Management: "Overall trader readiness for the introduction of import controls is strong. The government is also on track to deliver new systems, infrastructure and resourcing needed for these controls.
“We have been running a targeted campaign across print, radio and online to signpost businesses to the relevant information – and officials across government are leading a series of sector-based webinars to help traders and hauliers get ready.
“Recognising that the global pandemic has affected supply chains in the UK and across Europe, we announced earlier this year that we will be introducing import controls in phases throughout 2022 in order to give businesses more time to prepare.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.