UK food manufacturers are being forced to hire trade experts to deal with Northern Ireland (NI) border problems due to Brexit, according to a recruitment consultancy.
New Street Consulting Group said many businesses have had difficulties exporting and importing goods in and out of NI since 1 January 2021, when the post Brexit trade agreement came into effect.
The Northern Ireland protocol, which includes checks on products crossing between the mainland the NI, is causing huge delays and backlogs in transportation of produce, leading to some shortages, New Streeet said.
Under the protocol, NI remains within the EU customs union and single market, as well as the UK customs territory.
The sharp increase in demand for experts has led to more poaching from one company to another and pushed up pay and contract rates. Businesses are now hiring interims for rates of up to £1,000 per day, and this is making some supply chain and logistics professionals retrain to become more specialised in trade problems, the consultancy said.
Interim experts with prior experience of dealing with trade barriers or customs problems are being tasked with assessing supply chains for alternative routes or suppliers, or amending products to meet EU requirements.
Smaller businesses are having particular difficulty sourcing experts and paying the rates for their services, according to New Street, especially as many of the larger food producers and manufacturers hired some of the experts before the transition, in anticipation of problems.
Laurence Frantzis, director at New Street, said as EU trade and customs issues were still relatively new for most UK businesses, there were employment opportunities for those who could re-skill quickly enough or have existing experience.
“Brexit is causing problems every day to food and drinks businesses on a scale not seen before. The challenge for businesses now is to retrain people quickly enough to solve all those new trade and supply chain issues,” he said.
The British Meat Processors Association said the export system threatened a permanent loss of trade with the EU and Northern Ireland.
It said that dismissing trade disruption at the borders as simply short-term “teething problems” was no longer credible.
The association said UK meat companies were reporting systemic weaknesses in the current export system, mountains of red tape, and a potential permanent loss of trade of 20-50%.
It has published a Brexit Impact Report focusing on inspection and certification, electronic documentation, and the Common Veterinary Area.
Last month, the Office for National Statistics reported UK exports, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, fell by £5.3bn (19.3%) in January 2021. This was due to a £5.6bn (40.7%) fall in exports to the EU, it said.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the figures vindicated its campaigning over delays at ports.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “This is clearly a consequence of a lack of customs agents and the government’s failure to prepare industry adequately for huge post-transition changes.
“The picture is slowly improving as industry has pulls out all the stops to make things work but exports are still significantly down on the corresponding period in previous years.”
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