Richard Burnett gives evidence to the Transport Select Committee

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, is giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee on Brexit preparedness in the transport sector this morning (Wednesday 14 October).

The session starts from 09.30hrs. Watch on Parliament TV here.

When asked to what extent rail might be a solution, Richard explained that the same issues would remain in terms of paperwork.

He also said that there were a lot of other practical considerations to considering rail over road with the ‘just in time’ supply chain which may not make is as viable as it could seem.

“ECMT is not a solution if we don’t get the right deal, there are far too few to go around. In terms of bi-lateral agreements, it’s going to take some time to negotiate these with member states,” Richard said.

He added that: “There are certain sectors which will be impacted greatly by cabotage being removed. For example, in terms of UK to EU movements, concert hauliers will be devastated by this if they can’t access Europe, having already been so hard hit by Covid this year.”

Richard was asked how confident he was that the Government will negotiate sufficient access for UK hauliesr to the EU single market as part of a deal.

He replied that: “I have mixed views. In terms of our ability to go point-to-point, and our ability to transit, we’re pretty confident that we’ll achieve those elements.

When it comes to domestic cabotage and grand cabotage, the EU seem very strong in their position in saying that they aren’t going to provide us with that. That will have a big impact on what will happen on UK hauliers that are going over to the EU.

“Part of the issue is the symmetry with the deal. If the EU are going ti disallow us cabotage, we should be doing the exact same thing.”

Richard and the other witnesses were asked what the worst case scenario is if the systems aren’t in place in time.

“We’ve had no confirmation on when we will have access to these systems. We’ve been told December, but that gives us a very small window to get people trained,” Richard said.

The witnesses were asked about the IT systems which are being developed to deal with post-transition customs processes.

Richard explained that: “If you look at Check an HGV, I completed the system test and it’s very easy to use. It isn’t intuitive, it’s testing the haulier to ask if they have the correct paperwork, and they just have to tick a box to say that they have. It’s a checkbox system.”

“My concern is that traders aren’t ready. We did a survey of 1,000 international hauliers last week, and 91% felt that they didn’t have the clarity needed to complete these new processes,” Richard said. He also explained that, while businesses are working to get ready, they don’t feel that they have a lot of the information they need to do so.

Richard was asked whether, assuming that Operation Brock runs in the same way as Operation Stack, do we have everything we need?

He said: “The devil is in the details – will there be portaloos, will there be food and water? We want this clarity, and this level of detail, from our meeting with Michael Gove on Friday. We need to know how these vehicles will be diverted to these sites.”

The Committee asked to what extent hauliers travelling to Europe via Dover exploring alternative routes.

Richard said that hauliers will continue to use the Channel crossing, as it’s the shortest route to Europe. He also added that there will need to be more Offices of Departure, to help disperse haulage traffic away from Kent if we are to avoid queues at or around Dover.

Richard was asked whether he believes we have enough capacity to deal with exports to the EU.

He explained that, we do have the capacity to deal with exports, and that the UK doesn’t need any additional ports.

Richard explained that we’re still awaiting clarity on what facilities will be available to truckers stuck in queues developing around UK ports as new paperwork is checked.

The industry is still unclear about what will, and will not, be available.

Richard also said that this is an issue which will be raised in the meeting with Michael Gove this Friday, as we press the minister for detail on what will be there for lorry drivers.

Richard was asked about the Government’s ‘reasonable worst case scenario’

He said that he did believe that the warnings of 7,000 lorries queued away from the Port of Dover was possible, and that his past experience in the industry has shown that mistakes and logjams happen when people aren’t 100% clear on what they’re being asked to do.

“We’re now in a second spike, a second wave, of Covid, which will make training the 50,000 new customs agents which will be required from next year even harder.”

Richard explained that there is a significant amount of work – in the UK and EU – still have to do. He also said that the meeting with Michael Gove was meant to be with the signatories of the letter which was sent to the Cabinet Office Minister, but that there were around 40 people invited, which ended up diluting the meeting to the point of meaninglessness.

Richard was asked about his recent ‘washout’ meeting with Michael Gove, and why he said that there will be no chance that the industry will be ready for the end of transition.