HMRC yet to begin building UK border IT system

The government has six months to build, test and deploy an IT system which will be used at the UK border once the Brexit transition period is over. The Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) is intended to allow trucks to declare goods ahead of reaching the border, allowing for smoother traffic flow, particularly at busier ports such as Dover. However, the government has yet to begin the build of the IT system, MPs on the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee were told.

Speaking to the committee, Tim Reardon, head of EU Exit at the Port of Dover, said: "We're still at the stage of making sure the definition and the specification of the system is correct so it's built with a fighting chance of doing what it's needed to do." He added that French customs has built the same type of system in the same time frame "so it's not impossible". "The French customs have tested their system.

They've done it a couple of times and established that the data flow worked. The challenge is to make sure the lorries go where they're told to go, but there are ways of achieving that. I am certain that the GVMS system will similarly be tested, but it needs to be built before it can be tested," he said.

However, Reardon added that if "HMRC were to buy a licence for the French system, that would be a very simple thing to do and traders would like it". Also speaking to the committee, Alex Veitch, the Freight Transport Association's head of international policy, said the GVMS system must be tested and ready on time, and probably will be so, but added that "we're just hearing about details of it ourselves in the past week or two". The new customs system from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the customs declaration service (CDS), has also been behind schedule, and was not ready by the time the UK left the EU in October 2019. 

A National Audit Office (NAO) report, published in October 2019, said HMRC was behind schedule on the delivery timescales for CDS in February 2019, but the situation had become worse, according to the NAO report.  The reason for the delay is that software developers at HMRC have had to focus on the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) rather than the new system. Chief, which has been in place for 27 years, was originally only able to handle 60 million customs declarations per year.

The system therefore had to be upgraded to ensure it would be able to cope as a contingency post-Brexit. An HMRC spokesperson told Computer Weekly in May 2020 that the department has now extended the migration timelines for moving from Chief to CDS, and will run both systems in parallel for longer than originally planned. In June 2020, an EU Select Committee report found that the government's promise of a frictionless UK-Ireland border through the use of technology may not be possible.

"Technological solutions, important as they are, currently only have the capacity to mitigate rather than to eliminate friction arising from customs checks and processes," said the report.

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