Will GVMS be ready in time? The media response to the government's new border goods checking system

Mon 6 Jul 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News


The response from national media to the role GVMS (Goods Vehicle Movement Service) will play in managing post-transition exports has so far been mixed.

GVMS is being positioned as the solution to the question of how the UK will handle a surge in the number of declarations for GB exports to NI (as per the Northern Ireland Protocol) from 1 January 2021, and eventually for GB exports to the EU from July that year.

It will work by pre-lodging approved declarations and other related paperwork into a GMR (Goods Movement Reference), enabling hauliers to move goods through the port of entry to NI quickly.

Below are some of the responses from the trade press and national papers so far.

1. 6-month schedule ‘not impossible’

Computer Weekly reported on 25 June that the system has not yet been built, giving the UK just six months to get it ready for GB-NI trade from the start of next year.

The tech trade magazine was reporting on a parliamentary committee for the future relationship with the EU, where Tim Reardon, head of EU Exit at the Port of Dover, told MPs the system was still at a “definition” and “specification” stage.

He said the equivalent system created in France for UK-to-EU trade was built in a similar timeframe, so the UK schedule was “not impossible”.

Rather than a UK-built system, Reardon also suggested HMRC could licence the French version, saying it would be “a very simple thing to do and traders would like it”.

2. Northern Ireland ports ‘ready’

Operators at major NI ports, including the ports of Larne and Belfast, say they are ready to build infrastructure for post-transition trade as soon as government confirms what is needed, the BBC report.

The ports are working with Stormont's Department of Agriculture (DAERA) to create border control posts (BCPs) and are “very close to agreeing” what infrastructure is required but are waiting for DAERA to give the green light.

They have, however, expressed concern about GVMS, with Brian McGrath, chief executive and harbour commissioner at Foyle Port saying: "I don't think the track record of government in terms of that sort of technology implementation would give anybody a great deal of comfort.”

3. Tests by November

The Guardian reports that HMRC believes GVMS could be ready for testing by November, though business representatives say this is “perilously close to January’s full implementation deadline”.

The paper cites HMRC’s claim that the system will “ensure” trade checks are “light touch via electronic submission”, resulting in “the minimum possible burden” for traders.

A government spokesman said in the paper: “Our approach, welcomed by businesses, ensures that Northern Ireland will benefit from unfettered access to the whole UK market and that there will be no tariffs for internal UK trade in any circumstances”.

4. ‘Unseen and untested’

The Telegraph reported on Saturday (4 July), however, that the service was “unseen and untested” and could risk “customs chaos”.

The paper says the IT system GVMS is based on was initially set up to cope with only 60 million customs declarations per year. It will need to support 400 million declarations annually to cope with the NI Protocol alone.

The paper quotes responses from industry figures in Northern Ireland, including Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, who warned that producing GMRs would put an administrative burden on businesses.

He said: “It’s great the haulier has one piece of paperwork, but businesses will still need lots of man hours to put in the four other things – the safety, security, transit and export declarations – before we get the GMR number.”