Background note for the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee to support evidence session with
the Trader Support Service on 21 April 2021
The free to use Trader Support Service (TSS) was established by the Government to support the continued flow of trade in goods between Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI) following the end of the Transition Period. The TSS supports businesses with the new requirements, which came into force on 1 Jan 2021 as stipulated by the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP).
The TSS procurement process began in August 2020 and the contract was awarded to a consortium of Fujitsu (Prime), McKinsey and Company, Customs Clearance Consortium, Institute or Export & International Trade and HGS in mid-September. The TSS programme launched on 28 September. TSS was built and rolled out in around 3 months, going live on 21 December and beginning operations on 1 January. There are over 1000 people working across the consortium to deliver TSS.
TSS provides a free-to-use digital platform to help businesses and traders of all sizes navigate the changes to the way goods move by:
o Enabling traders to complete declarations without needing specialist software
o Saving traders significant time in completing declarations
o Reducing traders’ declaration costs as the service is free-to-use
TSS is working and has made considerable progress since beginning operation on 1 January. The process was set up at pace and all stages of the programme have been completed under COVID-19 restrictions. TSS now has over 37,000 registered traders, of which 30% have registered since 1 January (circa. 12,000 traders) providing evidence that the market thinks TSS is working and is responding. The 37,000 registered traders consist of 40% NI, 58% GB and 2% non-UK. TSS system uptime has been 100% available to date with no outages. The service continues to evolve and take account of real time experience of the movement of goods between NI and GB.
TSS has been set up to make the process as simplified as possible for traders. TSS uses Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP), splitting the declaration requirements into a simplified frontier declaration (SFD) before the journey begins and a supplementary declaration (SDI) once the goods have been delivered. TSS uses the data provided for the ENS safety and security declaration by the haulier or carrier to auto-generate the SFD for the trader. TSS interfaces with CDS, which calculates any duty payable. Requirements and duties are set by policy, with TSS only providing traders with the mechanism to fulfil their obligations.
Education, Engagement & Trader Preparedness
TSS has worked very hard to pro-actively educate traders through the provision of training materials, webinars, and direct engagement both through trade bodies and on a 1-2-1 basis. Interaction has taken place with businesses of all sizes, recognising that 80% of NI trade relates to micro/SMEs. The consortium has spent considerable time looking at the operation of trade within NI, which it combines with customs expertise and local knowledge (Fujitsu is a well-established NI business with over 700 employees). Engagement has focused on both NI and GB businesses and organisations. These include:
o Invest NI
o Manufacturing NI
o NI Chamber of Commerce
o Londonderry Chamber of Commerce
o Newry Chamber of Commerce
o Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association
o Chartered Accountants
o Mid & East Antrim Council & other local councils
o Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association
o Automated Customs & International Trade Association (ACITA)
o Road Haulage Association (RHA)
o Logistics UK
o British International Freight Association (BIFA)
o British Retail Consortium (BRC) NI and GB
o The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders
o Seafish UK
o Scottish Enterprise
We have hosted 150 engagements with businesses and organisations on a 1-2-1 basis, in addition to 75 seminars reaching approximately 3,500 organisations/individuals. We have over 30 user and step-by-step guides on our education partner Northern Ireland Customs & Trade Academy (NICTA) website, which have been downloaded over 360,000 times.
We have also collaborated with local Ambassadors in NI to reach different sectors. Additionally, we have a weekly engagement with the Irish Government, including IRC, DAFM, DFA to ensure that the TSS journeys, including Irish ports, are covered. DEFRA, DAERA and Irish DAFM colleagues have joined seminars and webinars, presenting a unified picture on the required SPS regulation for traders as TSS is acutely aware of the importance of the agri-food sector to the NI economy.
Staffing & Operations
The entire TSS programme is operating under COVID-19 restrictions, with the majority of staff working from home. Our teams are working at pace and we have scaled up considerably, with over 1000 people working on both the programme and live service. TSS is a digital first service, our forms are web/email based and the portal itself is all automated with declarations being submitted 24/7. All declarations are submitted instantly (provided all data is inputted correctly) and integrated into the relevant Government systems (ICS, CDS) within seconds. Depending on usage, at peaks this could take seconds longer, but around 90% are processed in less than 15 minutes even overnight, or at the weekend etc.
Our contact centre service desk opening hours are 7.30-10.30 Monday to Sunday and is staffed with approx. 750 agents. These agents range from the tier 1 staff answering basic enquires regarding technical difficulties or registration, to the tier 2 agents who have 2+ years customs experience and are able to manage the cases and triage the more complex queries. These queries are escalated to the more experienced tier 3 agents who all have a customs background and have worked for 7+ years in the industry. A significant proportion of them have over 20 years in depth experience and are able to provide a hands-on approach to users, often walking them through a problem or helping to submit a declaration live. If a tier 3 agent cannot deal with a query, it is urgently flagged to a senior member of the TSS who tackles it directly. We are actively upskilling our agent base with dynamic training sessions across all levels. They also all have slack and yammer – two social platforms within the work environment to encourage discussion. This is working extremely well and there is a sense of collaboration and close ties within the agent community.
Key Service Statistics
o Since 21 January TSS has supported 139,000 reported goods movements from GB to NI, involving 439,000 consignments, 360,000 SFD consignments and 224,000 Supplementary Declarations.
o More than 90% of declarations are successfully processed in less than 15 minutes.
o TSS system uptime has been 100% available to date with no outages.
o Since launch, 54,000 outbound calls have been made to support trader registration and queries, and 37,000 inbound calls have been received from traders.
o The average call duration is 9 minutes, with inbound calls answered within 6 seconds on average.
o In the past 4 weeks 90% of enquiries are being raised online, making it very much a digital-first service.
Responding to the Market
o SPS Groupage: TSS was instrumental in securing a simplification for traders moving SPS groupage loads and in particular catches of fish, which were unable to move from Scotland to NI. TSS worked with HMRC to remove the need for a CHED-P and Export Health Certificate at consignment level, enabling the goods to flow into NI.
o Groupage - Consignment First: We listened to the concerns of the haulage community, and rapidly developed and delivered a different model known as consignment first. This model allows the consignment data to be entered separately and in advance to the vehicle details, enabling groupage loads to move into NI.
Evolving the Service
We recognise that TSS is an evolving service, and in the early stages of the programme the focus was on getting the majority of goods through to ensure goods were delivered into NI with minimal disruption i.e. moving standard goods in free circulation in GB into NI directly. We have now moved over 439,000 consignments into NI so this approach can demonstrate success. We are now focused on supporting key sectors with the more complex journeys.
We are also using the experience of the last three months of operation to continuously develop the service we provide to traders. For example, we quickly stood up our Transit solution, responding to the needs of the market and the interconnectedness of the NI/IE routes. We listened to the concerns of the haulage community, and rapidly developed and delivered a different model known as consignment first. This model allows the consignment data to be entered separately and in advance to the vehicle details needed to complete the ENS safety and security declaration. This is particularly useful for those moving groupage loads, i.e. where there are multiple consignments from multiple suppliers moving on one vehicle. We have received excellent feedback regarding both of these solutions. We are not complacent and continue to work on releasing greater functionality and enhancing our service to support the trading communities of GB and NI.
Positive Customer Interactions & Feedback
TSS has supported thousands of successful interactions with the service and regularly receives positive trader feedback.
Postive trader interactions include:
o Tata Steel - Using the support of TSS, Tata Steel was able to raise the required Entry Summary Declaration (ENS) & Simplified Frontier Declaration (SFD)
o Alliance Flooring Distribution Ltd - over 134 supplementary declarations to submit for its imports into NI TSS called the trader to discuss the company’s requirements in relation to the TCA and recommended preferential duty codes. Then used with other traders
o James International Forwarding Ltd - Found advice very accurate and precise” in ensuring flow of their goods in both directions.
o Abbey Caravans and Leisure - Caravan & motorhome provider came to TSS for guidance on shipping caravan from Italy to NI, via GB. TSS quickly advised on how to fulfil the requirements and the trader was ‘very happy’.
“TSS has been extraordinarily helpful. They can achieve in hours and days what individual businesses and sectors might struggle to achieve in months and years. Northern Ireland is very fortunate to have the TSS and we should work closely and cooperatively with them. ” Roger Pollen, FSB NI