Effort needed to make train more customs staff, MPs told

Wed 10 Jun 2020
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

UK Houses of Parliament

The UK needs to accelerate its training of customs experts needed in time for the end of the transition period on 31 December, a parliamentary select committee hearing was told this morning.

At the meeting, MPs questioned leading academics about their views on the UK’s progress on negotiations with the EU about full withdrawal from the bloc, which happens at the end of this year.

The academics have observed the talks closely and have detailed knowledge of the key policy documents issued by both the EU and the UK.

The hearing was held by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU, a group appointed by the House of Commons to monitor EU-UK negotiations and chaired by Labour MP Hilary Benn.

it was hosted the day after a leading government minister said the UK would not be seeking an extension to the transition period.

Skills shortage

Asked by Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield, whether there were enough skilled customs staff in the UK, one expert replied “no…we’ve never had enough people with customs knowledge in the UK”.

Dr Anna Jerzewska, an independent customs and trade consultant at the UN International Trade Centre, told the committee that the required training resources were available.

She said the UK Customs Academy, the online training school run by the Institute of Export & International Trade with HMRC grant funding, had trained “around 1000 people” so far.

‘Realistic number’

“Compared with other countries, that’s a good and realistic number of people to have trained in a short time [since the school was founded in September 2019].”

Dr Jerzewska added that “the expectation of training 50,000 people [a figure Cabinet minister Michael Gove has acknowledged] – and we don’t have that number interested in a career in customs – within a year wasn’t a realistic one”.

She added that training in customs is “incredibly contextual,” built by on-the-job experience as well as course learning.

The UKCA, while delivered online, also provides access to one-to-one consultation with course tutors who are experienced practitioners from the world of customs.

For more information on the UKCA, see here.

Trade deal optimism

The trio of experts concluded they were “optimistic” of the UK securing a deal with the EU by the autumn.

Professor Catherine Barnard, professor of EU law at the University of Cambridge, said there was hope for a trade deal before the end of 2020 as “trading on WTO terms isn’t good enough for an advanced state like the UK”.