The British meat industry has called on the government to fast track the export of perishable goods after congestion at the port of Dover left lorries carrying fresh produce waiting up to two days to cross the English Channel.
The delays had been caused by the cancellation of voyages by P&O Ferries, bad weather, increased tourism traffic and the failure of an IT customs system.
P&O suspended all ferry services last month after it dismissed almost 800 staff without notice. The embattled company said on Wednesday it “expected” to restart sailings this week using two ferries, subject to safety inspections from UK regulators.
The delays at Britain’s busiest port are the latest in a series of disruptions to cargo moving between the UK and EU that hauliers say is damaging the competitiveness and reputation of UK industry.
The British Meat Processors Association said members carrying fresh meat had been “stranded” for one to two days and that disruption was expected to continue into the coming week of the Easter bank holiday.
“In our ‘just-in-time’ food supply chain, this kind of failure to supply means that we start to lose EU customers, who turn to other countries to provide a more reliable supply of product,” said Nick Allen, BMPA chief executive.
“We need the authorities to review the situation as a matter of urgency and take appropriate action to keep the flow of perishable food moving,” Allen added.
The UK government’s Goods Vehicle Movement Service, which allows companies moving goods into or out of the UK to file customs forms electronically, suffered outages last week. This complicated exports, particularly for fresh goods.
HM Revenue & Customs said on Friday that the issues had been resolved but that contingency measures would remain in place until midday on Monday when the GVMS system will be fully restored.
GVMS has been down for about 10 days and was also creating problems for companies shipping goods into the UK, according to one customs agent.
GVMS is one of several IT systems critical to importing and exporting that have struggled under the burden of processing requirements since the UK left the EU, the agent said, adding that hauliers were “sceptical” that the fixes announced would solve all of the problems.
Rod McKenzie, spokesperson for the UK Road Haulage Association, said it was vital for the UK economy that the port of Dover functions well.
“It’s in the interest of British business for that border to work as effectively as it can,” he said. “We all depend on an efficient border.”
Though P&O said it hopes to restart voyages this week, one of the ships earmarked for the Channel routes has been impounded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency following inspections of crew familiarisation and training.
Rival ferry company DFDS had stepped in to carry passengers and freight booked with P&O, but all DFDS services were fully booked this weekend.
A DfT spokesperson said: “P&O’s unacceptable actions have resulted in its vessels being detained, causing backlogs and traffic jams which would be substantially alleviated if its fleet was operating normally. It’s left operators, local authorities and, of course, government having to clear up the mess.
“That alongside bad weather and the Easter rush has meant that roads are exceptionally busy.”
Additional reporting by Philip Georgiadis and Jim Pickard