Trader Support Service ‘very confident’ ahead of increase in post-Brexit checks

Freight lorries at Belfast Port Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Confidence has been expressed that businesses will be able to cope with further checks set to come in to force as part of the post-Brexit arrangements.

Goods arriving at Northern Ireland’s ports from Great Britain currently face a raft of checks, with more to come following the expiry of grace periods.

The checks are part of the Northern Ireland Protocol which sees the region follow many EU rules while remaining part of the UK, which has left the EU.

Amazon trucks being driven on to P&O’s European Highlander ferry at the Port of Larne Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

The compromise mechanism was reached in a bid to avoid having to install a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Unionist parties have expressed opposition to the protocol, dubbing it an Irish Sea border, and are pressing for the UK Government to ditch it.

More checks are set to come into force later this year following a grace period.

The Trader Support Service (TSS) was created to help businesses adapt to the new arrangements.

The consortium, headed by IT firm Fujitsu, won an initial two-year contract to help Northern Ireland firms deal with the new Irish Sea border.

More than 36,000 traders are currently registered with the TSS, of which 43% are based in Northern Ireland, 55% in Great Britain and 2% in the Republic of Ireland.

They offer online user guides for businesses as well as a contact centre manned by 750 staff across three tiers of customs experience.

Representatives gave evidence to a joint sitting of three Stormont Committees on Wednesday.

We are not complacent; we recognise there is still work to do

Christian Benson, Fujitsu

Christian Benson, of Fujitsu, described the TSS as an “evolving service”.

“We are not complacent; we recognise there is still work to do and we continue to work on releasing more functionality and enhance our service,” he said.

Economy, Infrastructure and Agriculture Committee members all took part in the meeting, which was described as a first.

Unionist MLAs each declared their opposition to the protocol, condemning it as a burden on trade and expressing their desire for its removal.

Christian Benson, of Fujitsu, said the TSS is an ‘evolving service’ Credit: NI Assembly/PA

DUP MLA William Irwin raised a projection by Northern Ireland’s chief vet that there could be up to 30,000 checks required per day once the grace period ends.

Mary Scullion, of Fujitsu, said the TSS believes resources are in place to deal with any increase in volume.

“We have seen all sorts of humps every time we do a new release or every time a new process has to be followed … but even at that we are still well able to respond and quickly respond to the requests that we have,” she said.

In terms of a suggestion of millions of declarations, she said: “We are not seeing those yet but we believe we are well placed to cover them all.

Mary Scullion, of Fujitsu, said resources are in place to deal with any increase in the volume of checks Credit: NI Assembly/PA

“Our projections are that we will be able to deal with the volume of movements and declarations that are required as time evolves and as grace periods finish.”

Mr Benson and Ms Scullion were pressed further on this by Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan.

Mr Benson said: “We’re very confident that we are resourced within the contact centre to deal with the increase in volume that we anticipate.”

Meanwhile, in response to a question by Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd, Aidan Reilly, of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), said officials are working to get some “pragmatic proportionate solutions” to issues around consumer parcels.