Trucks trying to leave the UK are experiencing a wait of between 6-10 hours at the shuttle which is the main exit route from the UK.
“It is a complete and utter mess,” says Graham Eardley from transport company Eardley International. “In addition to an increased amount of traffic trying to get through, the shuttle and ferry ports are trialling their various post-Brexit systems from time to time, to see if they are going to work, everybody is now seeing that they are not going to work. I don’t think many people can comprehend the carnage which is about to ensue.”
According to Graham the shuttle did a trial to demonstrate what could potentially happen after 1st January. They held back each truck which arrived by five minutes and within an hour there was a tail back 10 miles long on the motorway.
“As soon as you add in this element of customs, which is what is going to happen, the system won’t cope it is just not robust enough. There is no other port which does this kind of volume of traffic as the Folkestone / Dover-Calais route, but the government do not have their heads around it.”
“We have the perfect storm brewing, the scenario where there is increased traffic because of Christmas which is normal but in addition to this everyone is trying to pack their warehouses full of product pre-Brexit because no one knows what is going to happen.”
Eardley’s trucks transport meat from the UK into Europe and the suppliers are saying that come January they won’t be able to export because of the WTO tariffs they won’t be able to compete.
The question of the driver’s exemption from quarantine is a non-issue according to Graham, as it will have to continue otherwise it would be unworkable.
“It is disgusting that we elect a government to make decisions and supposedly to do the best by the country and they can’t even get in a room and hammer out a deal. Some are even saying that the WTO tariffs would not be so bad, they have no idea. The UK of course already exports goods and we can do customs procedures, but the sheer number of customs procedures which will have to take place from 1st Jan is not attainable. There have been trials by the shippers - DFDS and the shuttle for example and everyone of them has said that the HRMC’s back office for all the customs documentation is not robust enough it has failed every time. So, if you get to the port with a perishable load and then the computer says it doesn’t recognise you, the barcode doesn’t work, you have to park up the driver as he can’t enter. We are looking at a delay of at least a day possibly two, which you just can’t afford with a fresh product.
“Normally the lead up to Christmas is a very busy time for us, everyone wants double trucks and when you have to explain that you don’t have the capacity to double everything up, but normally we get through by the skin of our teeth and by Christmas Eve you are thinking ‘wow we pulled that off!’ But this year with still two weeks to Christmas we are already gridlocked, as soon as you have a number of trucks which are delayed by a few hours the impact of that on a rolling program is huge.
“If we are importing goods and have a delivery slot at a supermarket RDC at 10am and our truck is not going to arrive there until 6pm, they then say sorry you have missed your slot come back tomorrow - if you multiply that by the volume of traffic moving it is a huge mess. Of course, these delays follow on to our meat exports which can’t wait either.
A very dark place
Graham says we are in a very dark place, “I don’t think I’ve felt this pessimistic about how we are going to do this next 3 or 4 weeks before, the Government while rightly being focussed on the pandemic have dropped the ball on this.”
A few people which Graham has spoken to think there may be a stay of execution, they think it might get knocked back a few months. He is not sure about this but hopes it will be delayed because we are not ready. “If the UK does crash out with WTO the whole thing would collapse around our ears. If Joe Public knew the implications of this, they would be shocked, as soon as people start to see that food on the shelves has increased 20-30% they will realise that it was a mistake.
“Even if they get a deal tomorrow, that can’t be implemented in time and the systems which are in place don’t work, they are not robust enough. Come 4th or 5th January the queues we will see at the ports will be immense, the shelves won’t be empty immediately but one of the first things to run out will be fruit and veg as it is a very tight supply chain now. When we import goods into the UK and take them to an RDC they are on the shelves a day later.
“We have had some very tough times in the transport industry in the past with major hikes in fuel prices which all of a sudden went from 30-35% of your costs to 60-65% at the peak, we have come through it, but we have never had such uncertainty before, that is the biggest problem.
“The major costs for us will be in the delay, the costs of the customs will be absorbed by the customers who will arrange their own customs paperwork. Where our costs will increase is as soon as you tie up £150,000 worth of equipment and two drivers, as soon as you delay them for 6-10-24 hours the cost implication of that to a business is huge. We are already saying to our customers that we are prepared to work together with them but there will come a point when we can’t absorb this anymore. If delays last for a month or six months or however long we will have to pass it along, a couple days we can handle. The fresh produce industry is going face a very difficult set of circumstances indeed.”