Despite the government estimating that 50,000 new customs agents will be needed after Brexit, Robert Keen, director-general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), the main provider of customs training in the UK, said the country was falling “many thousands short” of the target.

The National Audit Office has estimated that 145,000 UK businesses could need to complete customs formalities for the first time from next January, leading to an additional 200m customs declarations a year.

The UK government is falling far short of a target to train an estimated 50,000 new customs agents that will be needed after Brexit and is “misleading” the public over its level of preparedness, customs and haulage industry leaders warned.

NGL has the trained personnel, systems and processes to ensure that our customers’ post-Brexit cargo passes immediately through UK border controls

Mr Keen said that BIFA had managed to put just 1,298 people through its online customs declaration training in 2019, with a further 244 online courses completed by February, but in March and April there were only 96 enrolments, due to the coronavirus crisis. 

Many of those who had taken up training were already working in customs and were taking advantage of grants to enhance existing skills, rather than bringing new capacity to the industry.

Separately, 870 courses have been completed at an online customs academy set up by the government in September last year with the Institute of Export and International Trade.

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove endorsed the 50,000 industry estimate in parliament in February and told MPs last month that the government was in discussions about creating a new customs agent academy while working with industry “to ensure that they have the capacity required”.

In a letter to the parliamentary committee responsible for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, to which Mr Gove gave evidence on April 27, Mr Keen raised “ongoing concerns” over “potentially misleading and ambiguous comments” from politicians and government.

Mr Keen has warned MPs that it takes a year to train a customs agent to handle “routine inquiries” given the complexity of the forms and with just six months until the new customs regime comes into force, concerns are now growing about the levels of preparedness.  

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said he believed it was now “impossible” to train the number of people required in time. “It is impossible to think we can train this number of people, get them ready and processes in place to be ready on the first of January,” he said.