Question for Short Debate
I thank the noble Lord, the Deputy Chair of Committees, for calling me. I have been here, but we were out of contact.
I thank the Minister for taking this short debate. She is rightly highly regarded and respected in this House. Much of what I say will be the responsibility of other government departments; their inter-relationship with haulage and overseas trade is complex. I look forward to her response. She will know that I have been encouraged by the digital engagement team to participate in the pilot, using this debate to demonstrate the range of knowledge which is represented by Members of this House. They have asked those working in the industry likely to be interested of their take on the debate. I will refer to some of them later.
I begin by declaring my interests in the register. Noble Lords will understand that I will draw on my horticultural experience, as the business is very much involved with trade in the Netherlands and elsewhere and in both parts of Ireland. It could be said that the situation is much improved since 10 weeks ago, when the Kent variant of Covid-19 first appeared and France unilaterally denied access to road transport. Dover ferries and the tunnel were unable to function. This ended when the Government negotiated a resumption of traffic by a Covid-testing scheme for drivers which over the Christmas holiday relieved the stack. The dress rehearsals which had been held earlier in the year for a no-deal stalemate proved their worth, and the department is to be congratulated on the smooth running of what could have been a chaotic situation.
It was also demonstrated how our overseas trading links and full supermarket shelves depend on our road hauliers. I believe a remote customs and inspection facility has been constructed to relieve pressure on Dover. Will my noble friend tell me how well it is functioning and whether other such remote facilities likely to be constructed in connection with the newly announced freeports?
There are a number of remote border control posts. There is one at FreshLinc, Spalding, and we ourselves are a place of destination. Does my noble friend have some figures on how many of these are registered? Noble Lords may be surprised that they are considered necessary. However, although we have a trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union, negotiated so ably by my noble friend Lord Frost, who will be making his maiden speech in the next debate, we are now a third country and some elements of traffic are subject to not just customs declarations but product inspections. Frictionless this is not.
I can give noble Lords a personal example. Because of our new relationship, our business is subject to UK phytosanitary certification inspection regulations, as our biosecurity has been repatriated. I welcomed these regulations when they came before the Grand Committee in December. However, they are complex and introduce a great deal of friction into trade. Noble Lords will probably not be aware of the considerable paperwork in the export and import of plants and flowers, and, for that matter, meat products. New computer programs are being designed by Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. Meanwhile, we have had to use an old program. Although there is some easing of pressure, paperwork and inspections are still the order of the day.
One of the respondents to the digital team’s survey, Mike from the West Midlands, called for “Less complex requirements for customs procedures, and make it all online—less paperwork”. I agree. Can my noble friend the Minister update the Grand Committee as to when traders can expect the arrival of this updated platform, and what sort of transfer arrangements will be made for change? Is the Department for Transport in discussion with colleagues in government on the design of digital systems, with the intention of making trade as straightforward for hauliers and traders as possible? I know that two staff members at Taylor’s have been invited to meetings. Perhaps I might say that I view traders and hauliers as having the same interest in this regard. Easing friction and limiting costs is very much in everyone’s interests. The Government have done much to assist the push-pull of trade across borders with TSS—the trader support service. These are free to use but not without costs to the trader in collecting and inputting data. It is the sort of partnership which a Government supporting trade and commerce need to provide. In addition to encouraging trade support services, what other support can be put in place to support hauliers transporting goods internationally?
I mentioned previously the cost to traders of the regulating procedures involved. This becomes even more of a problem when groupage or part-loads only are involved. I was told of a nurseryman who had to pay additional costs of £250 for one trolley of plug plants from Belgium for growing on at his nursery. Parcels traffic, which used to keep retailers stocked, can be even more disproportionate; parcel companies can be excused for not providing this service for products subject to phytosanitary regulation. What efforts are the department making to reduce the friction on such businesses to markets which were freely accessible within the EU pre-Brexit, regrettably with Northern Ireland now included?
Easing friction is in everyone’s interest. I am grateful to Logistics UK, formerly the FTA, for its briefing which reinforces this maxim. I hope all noble Lords participating in this debate have received it. I have sent a copy to my noble friend the Minister. It presents a number of ideas, particularly to address the difficulties for deliveries to Northern Ireland, which are less certain following the recent decision not to develop port inspection facilities.
The grace period ends on 1 April and noble Lords will be aware of today’s news on this. Those of us in food and non-food agriculture and horticultural produce need a viable groupage provision for hauliers to offer traders. Our season top-up business to garden centres needs a parcel service. With the will, we can improve systems and structures. Logistics UK also made a similar request for advice on additional EU trade requirements from April that I endorse.
Haulage of all types has been impacted by the pandemic. How is traffic? I ask my noble friend the Minister what the latest figures are compared with the first two months of 2020? What are the Minister’s views on this? What measures in particular will help the industry recover now we have a road map?
Several correspondents to the digital engagement team of the House commented on this. Noble Lords will not be surprised that I received a number of submissions from groups representing performing arts and music about the particular challenges of touring not only in the EU, but even ATA Carnets and CITES in Northern Ireland. The hauliers involved are anxious at what they see as unworkable cost trade and cabotage restrictions.
I hope I have been able in framing this QSD to indicate the importance of the link that international haulage provides for our arts, trade and commerce. I thank noble Lords for their interest in this QSD. I look forward to the speeches that follow and to the response of my noble friend.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has spelled out the problems. The reason they have not been as apparent as they might is not just the Covid effect, but as the period of grace means that the regulations have not been fully implemented either across the channel or in Northern Ireland.
My main point is a different one. Once we return to something like pre-existing levels of exports and imports, there will be a serious problem of a lack of skilled HGV drivers. A disproportionate number of HGV drivers from and to the UK, whether employed, subcontracted or owner-drivers, have been EU citizens, mainly from central and eastern Europe. A lot of small EU firms also operate over here. The British-based driving workforce is ageing.
Brexit has meant thousands of haulage drivers who are EU citizens leaving the UK and small EU-owned hauliers are also pulling out. Part of the post-Brexit plan for road haulage has to be an upgraded workforce. We need a systematic training and upskilling system and recruitment of a new generation of drivers. I see no plan for that, either by Government or by the industry. In her reply, can the Minister please enlighten the Committee on what is the strategy for upgrading the UK road haulage workforce?
My Lords, the guidance to hauliers on the government website about the trade and co-operation agreement requirements amounts to 37 pages—some little light reading.
Ian Wright, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation, told the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU that
“we now have to treat every different bit of a consignment and every different product with the same approach that we might have previously done to whole lorryloads … we are going to see the re-engineering of almost all … supply chains over the next six to nine months.”
The difficulties of Brexit red tape result from the choice made by this Government for a very hard Brexit. By prioritising sovereignty over market access, they were determined to leave the single market and customs union. The only real hope is to change that situation in the years ahead. Now there is a unilateral move by the Government to change the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol. This foolish and regrettably confrontational move has surely prejudiced hopes for negotiated easements of the protocol or the TCA, unless the Minister can assure me that that is not the case.
My Lords, reports last November said that one reason for incoming lorries being stuck at Dover was that drivers from Lithuania, Hungary, Romania and elsewhere could not understand the customs forms, as they were only in English. The Minister told me in a Written Answer that the DfT road haulage handbook was being translated into 13 other languages, starting with Welsh, Polish and Romanian. Are the other 10 translations now complete and available? Other DfT measures include the multilingual incident reporting line. Have all these initiatives had the intended effect and eased the logjam attributable to language barriers?
An answer I had from the Treasury sadly did not reveal the same foresight: customs declarations are available in only English and Welsh, with no plans for translated or bilingual versions. Will the Minister speak to Treasury colleagues to see whether best practice by her department might be copied there too?
My Lords, I am getting reports that the French roaming permits system for abnormal loads is not available to UK hauliers, which is causing obvious difficulties. Can the Minister give us an update, and perhaps take into account the possibility of amending the special types rules so that the special types general order is available only to operators with a UK operator’s licence? On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, perhaps it would help if we improved the conditions of employment and in particular rest facilities for lorry drivers.
My Lords, today the department of agriculture in Northern Ireland said that the number of regulatory checks required by the bizarre and unnecessary Northern Ireland protocol equates to 20% of all similar checks across the entire European Union. That is more checks in Northern Ireland than are carried out by any single EU member state, even the biggest. Think about that; it is an absolutely horrendous situation, and that is with the grace periods still in force. If they end, as the EU and anti-Northern Ireland interests start demanding, then each of the 1,350 retail lorries arriving in Northern Ireland per week, which at present require a single declaration, will require 20,000 to 30,000 between them. That is absolutely unacceptable—it is nearly the same amount as for the entire EU, and it would be for the internal UK movements of lorries delivering from and to the UK. We need to get real here. I welcome the action by the Government yesterday, but it is not a permanent solution. Can the Government ensure that this scandalous situation is addressed very quickly for the long term?
My Lords, I am less concerned with the supposed delays to heavy goods vehicles crossing the channel and more concerned to see that the Government meet their carbon reduction targets in 2050. Some one-fifth of total carbon emissions in this country come from road vehicles, 21% of which come from heavy goods vehicles. Yet in 2019, the last year for which I have figures, no fewer than 1.6 million lorries were carried through the Channel Tunnel by Getlink, and 2.5 million lorries took the short sea crossing.
I have always been in favour of the Channel Tunnel. Back in the 1980s, I was chairman of the Channel Tunnel All-Party Group. I was at Canterbury when President Mitterrand and Mrs Thatcher signed the treaty of that name. We were told then that the opportunities for long-distance rail freight would be enormous, once the Channel Tunnel was opened. Yet, traffic by rail never exceeded more than 2,000 tonnes, and that number is falling. Given that the channel crossing is overdependent on road haulage, can the Minister tell us whether she is confident of meeting the government targets for carbon emissions?
My Lords, the international logistics industry is very complex, competitive and efficient. The trade and co-operation agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom does not make provision for the industry’s very time-sensitive arrangements, which are expensive and, almost inevitably, take up time. Can the Minister tell the Committee whose advice was sought in drawing up the agreements? Did they have intimate knowledge of how the logistics industry works? It seems as if many issues were swept under the carpet with scant regard for the effects on commerce. Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to an FTA circular. I certainly have not seen it and it has not been widely circulated because the FTA does not communicate with the general body of opinion.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on spotting the need for these critical issues to be aired and responded to by the Government. I wonder whether the Minister would be minded to bundle her responses to noble Lords’ questions into a single note. It would be helpful if all the points raised could be addressed in a single place and distributed to all those taking part in this important debate.
I have three questions to add to those posed by others. Do the Government believe that serious problems exist? If so, what are the options for solving them, or does the Minister anticipate that they will continue?
My Lords, in opening this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that easing friction is in everybody’s interests. I believe that everybody in this Committee would agree with that. However, as other speakers have said, we have exacerbated friction between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, almost to the point at which it is utterly ridiculous. A small piece of earth on the tyre of a vehicle can cause it to be prevented from entering Northern Ireland because it is contaminated with soil from Great Britain.
Groupage issues will be a nightmare for hauliers because, as everybody knows, people build up loads and try to ensure that they can be delivered in small parcels to different people. The paperwork for a pallet on a groupage lorry will be dramatic. Even the Irish Republic is suffering. It can send lorries directly to Europe without crossing Great Britain, but it costs between €600 and €800 extra per lorry. This results in hugely increased costs and empty lorries coming back. It is unacceptable.
My Lords, this debate can best be described as delays caused for want of data. Does the Minister agree that this is a question of data not wagons? Where is the data? When can we reasonably expect it and how can it be effectively deployed to take out the delays in the system? Has she had a chance to look at the paper on reducing friction in international trade that I published last year and which is part of the 2025 UK Border Strategy on page 40?
Does she agree that we in the United Kingdom have an excellent opportunity to create a utility trade platform that not only would reduce delayed costs but could be commercially beneficial? It could be sent right around the world for the benefit of every member of the United Kingdom.
Turning to musicians, this is a huge problem, but what is the solution? We need a solution, so we need to have those discussions with our European partners. Finally, I commend all the efforts of Elton John towards unblocking the problem with musicians. We all need to become “Rocket People”.
My Lords, all the speakers in this excellent debate have identified real problems that I suggest could have been thought about four years ago when we had the first Brexit vote. They can all possibly be solved, but it will take time, and at the moment it is a complete disaster. What have the Government learned from these issues and how will they change the procedures, documentation et cetera? More importantly, how do they intend that these improvements will be communicated to the industry? How will they work when we have the extra lines of problems coming in on 1 April and 1 July? Lastly, what consultation has taken place with the equivalent people in the European Union—or is it just us working on our own?
My Lords, much concern has been expressed about the post-Brexit problems faced by creative groups such as orchestras and theatre companies wishing to tour in Europe. In addition to the problems around work permits and other paperwork requirements, they also face, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned, transport problems. Prior to Brexit, such groups often visited several venues in multiple countries, with their own or rented specialist vehicles moving their instruments and equipment from venue to venue. But under the post-Brexit cabotage rules, this will no longer be possible unless UK creative groups stop using UK vehicles and rely on EU ones.
When, in January, I raised this with the Culture Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, assured me that colleagues in the Department for Transport were working hard to address these issues. So can the Minister tell us what has been achieved in the intervening time? Surely we should at least be able to get an exemption in cases such as this, where what leaves the UK in a lorry returns to the UK in the same lorry. Can she also tell us whether we should be additionally concerned now that the EU has shelved plans to ratify the trade deal with us because it no longer trusts us?
For Irish Sea freight, extending the grace period makes sense—but not unilaterally; not by resiling from due process and the protocol. Breaking our word is not what Britain does—or used not to be.
On the wider problems hauliers face, I see no quick fix, because they stem directly from ditching 60 years of market-opening endeavour. At a stroke, we have gone back not just to before the Thatcher single market success, or Mr Heath’s customs union, but back before the Macmillan Government invented EFTA successfully. How astonished they would be to see their party now put autarchy over access and opt for frontiers over freedom. It has consequences. In the decade after rejecting the EEA, Switzerland grew more slowly than every EU member state. In yesterday’s Budget Red Book, we saw that our exports are forecast still to be shrinking in 2025. I fear that the hauliers are only the harbingers.
My Lords, traders and hauliers moving goods from GB to Northern Ireland urgently require certainty, stability and simplicity, which can be resolved or solved only through intergovernmental agreement and co-operation between the UK and the EU—not, as we witnessed last night, the unilateral actions of the Government, which simply fuel discontent. In this regard, I urge the Minister to provide an update to the House on the retail movement scheme, the groupage scheme, parcel delivery services and a bolted-on scheme for the trader support service for SPS food products as a matter of urgency. Also, will she indicate when discussions will resume between the UK and the EU, which are urgently required?
My Lords, I entirely support the comments of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach and I refer to the fact that I am an honorary president of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association.
There remains great confusion in the paperwork required before a lorry leaves the UK for EU ports, and sometimes Northern Ireland too. The Government must give clearer advice. Can my noble friend the Minister say when digitalised forms will be available? As regards the issue that my noble friend Lord Taylor set out concerning groupage, it is unacceptable that even the smallest mistake involving only one item in the consignment means that the whole consignment will be lost. This must be addressed urgently.
I received a letter today from my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook. She says:
“We recognise the need to provide as much support for the haulage sector as possible.”
I ask the Minister: what is that support?
My Lords, a highly successful sector of the UK haulage industry specialises in transporting staging, instruments and equipment around the UK and Europe for touring musicians. There are about eight major companies in this sector and they also work for dance companies, theatre, fashion, museums, and big events businesses. These British companies are pre-eminent in their field and it is estimated that they transport 80% of British and American bands on European tours.
However, the Government’s failure to secure a cultural exemption from cabotage rules in the EU trade negotiations means that it is all going to hell in a handcart. Their trucks must now return to the UK every two gigs in a tour of perhaps 25 venues, which is not remotely feasible. They are moving their businesses into the EU, at great cost to themselves and UK plc. How did the Government allow this catastrophe to happen and what are they going to do to save the industry?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. No? Then I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.
My Lords, I want to expand on the impact on international performance touring and I am grateful to One Dance UK for its briefing.
Theatre and dance companies work closely with hauliers, designing touring shows to fit into specific trucks. Drivers remain with the tour throughout, effectively becoming part of the crew and ensuring safe packing and movement of specialised materials, sets and equipment. Under the new cabotage rules, companies will now have to implement either a cross load to an EU supplier during the tour or bring an EU supplier to the UK to establish the back-and-begin touring pattern—which means four ferry crossings instead of two, extra mileage and more costs. As few tours complete in seven days and only go to two stops, the new rules will force UK companies to use EU rather than UK hauliers.
The ideal solution would be, as we have heard, a cultural exemption from cabotage for the movement of goods, especially where subject to a carnet, on the basis that the goods will not be sold but transported for touring use and then returned to the UK. This solution would also benefit EEA performing companies coming to the UK. Can the Minister commit to finding a solution that does not lead to further costs for UK performing companies or reductions in business for UK hauliers?
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in pointing out that the issues on cabotage are part of a huge cloud now hanging over the creative sector, including the requirement for work permits or visa exemptions in many EU countries, CITES certificates for musical instruments, ATA carnets for all instruments and equipment, and proof of origin requirements for merchandise. Cabotage provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement will mean that performers’ European tours will no longer be viable, because the agreement specifies that hauliers will be able to make only two journeys within a trip to the EU. Having to return to the UK between unloading sites in the EU will have a significant negative impact on the UK’s cultural exports and associated jobs.
A successful UK transport industry dedicated to our creative industries is at risk of relocation to the EU, endangering British jobs and jeopardising the attractiveness of the UK as a culture hub, as support industries will follow the companies that relocate to the EU. What proposals do the Government have for a negotiated solution, such as they have heard about today, that will meet their needs?
My Lords, my brief remarks are based on having spent 10 years in the European Parliament as a foot soldier in the creation of the single market. I was on the EU Goods Sub-Committee and am now chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership.
The point of the single market and the customs union is frictionless trade, which eases business and creates wealth. If you leave them, as we have done, it is an inevitable and direct consequence that grit gets in the engine, as we have already heard this afternoon from speaker after speaker. In reality, unlike almost all other sectors, the international road haulage industry cannot, for reasons of geography, exploit possible promised trading opportunities elsewhere around the globe. The sector is therefore inevitably collateral damage of Brexit. The Government have imposed that on the industry. What, if anything, do they propose to do both for the industry and, equally importantly, for its customers in the unhappy circumstances in which we currently find ourselves?
My Lords, UK international haulage and trade has faced the most significant and sudden changes in 20 years after the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Hauliers and traders are starting to see the difference between adjustment issues and the new commercial and structural changes. As president of the CBI, I can say that we are seeing at first hand that business managing disruption has become the immediate priority. The changes at the GB/EU and GB/Northern Ireland borders have been the top priority: new customs processes, delays at ports, groupage, as we have heard, and inconsistent approaches from member states are just some of the challenges.
Meanwhile, firms face a new set of challenges due to the end of the grace periods and bridging mechanism timeframes. Does the Minister agree that these grace periods are not enough? Some are saying that we need at least two years. Does she believe that we should negotiate in good faith with the European Union to extend the grace periods to up to two years? Trade is essential if we are to build a competitive, dynamic and modern economy. This year—2021—is a golden opportunity for the UK to redefine its place in the world, showcase leadership and promote our values with the chairing of the G7 and hosting the UN COP 26 summit.
My Lords, the Minister will undoubtedly defend the Government’s record but, as a haulier said to me this week, no amount of flannel really fools anyone. Post pandemic, the UK needs an economy firing on all cylinders, not a Government who have deliberately and knowingly created major additional hurdles. The number of empty lorries returning to the EU with no British goods on board is now around 45%. Hauliers say that this figure is usually far lower—around 15% to 20%. In April, additional checks will add problems.
Trade through Welsh ports, meanwhile, is being replaced by direct ferries from Ireland to continental Europe. A competent Government would have adapted to the circumstances and negotiated to extend the Brexit deadline until we start to recover from Covid. Instead, the Government are dangerously threatening unilaterally to abandon the Northern Ireland protocol.
The issue is the extent to which the current difficulties faced by international hauliers are temporary ones that will be resolved in the next few months or either permanent or likely to be long-term. I am advised that the key issue is the value of exports being transported. Do the Government have any up-to-date figures on that aspect?
I am told that a higher percentage of traders than normal are having to head back to Calais empty due to Brexit difficulties; that there is a shortage of customs agents; that Northern Ireland haulage is down by half; and that while some sectors—mainly those with bigger businesses—are managing and masking the overall economic damage that is occurring, other sectors are being decimated, with agricultural rules in particular being very difficult for traders to overcome. No doubt the Minister will cover some of these points in her response.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach for raising this important issue and, of course, for the contributions of all noble Lords. I am also grateful to the members of the public who shared their concerns digitally.
We have been working with the logistics industry over a number of years to understand and minimise the potential impacts on hauliers and the traders they serve at the end of the transition period. We want to increase understanding and reduce confusion across the system, and make the process as seamless as it can possibly be. Where improvements can be made, we make them as quickly as we can so that, in time, the system will adjust.
I believe that these processes will be part of normal business life, like filling in a VAT return: it is not pleasant, but you just do it. We are absolutely committed to reducing friction as much as we possibly can—to remove the grit from the engine, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said. I assure noble Lords that the latest available data shows that overall freight volumes between the UK and the EU are back to normal levels. I will write with further details about value and the number of empty containers—in fact, I will probably be writing on pretty much everything today, but that is a tribute to the quality of the debate.
I turn first to market access for hauliers, because the deal we reached with the EU allows 95% of journeys to continue as they previously did. That is one of the most important things that we were able to deliver for the haulage sector as a whole. I assure the Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that we received a substantial amount of advice, both commissioned and unsolicited, from a wide range of voices in the logistics sector.
As we have heard today from several noble Lords, specialist hauliers—those involved in cultural and sporting events—have significant concerns following the TCA, and they have of course been impacted because of the number of internal EU movements on which they rely. Market access agreements for hauliers transporting equipment for cultural events was discussed regularly and in detail during the negotiations between the UK and the EU. The UK put forward specific proposals for liberalised access but the EU was unable to agree more flexible arrangements. Of course, the Department for Transport remains in contact with the industry, and we are also working in close collaboration with DCMS and BEIS to see what we can do to support the creative industries.
Turning to the wider changes—perhaps a little beyond transport—introduced by the end of the transition period, on exports, since the start of January, traders and hauliers have needed to comply with new requirements to export to the EU, including customs declarations and sanitary and phytosanitary checks. I am pleased to say that the number of turn-backs at the border is far lower than some forecasts and, indeed, than some noble Lords suggested in their remarks today. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who called it a complete disaster, might be interested to know fewer than 5% of trucks at the short straits have to be turned back, and some of those will be because they do not have a valid Covid certificate, not because they do not have the correct customs forms. We need to temper our messages. I am not saying that there is no room for improvement—we must strain every sinew to make sure that people are fully aware of their obligations—but I am saying that the system is not completely broken, as has been implied by some noble Lords.
On imports, we have assisted international hauliers by taking a phased approach to the introduction of various checks. Until 1 July, traders can import non-controlled goods from the EU by using the existing customs processes or by making a declaration in their own records at the point the goods entered GB, followed by a supplementary declaration, which must be submitted to HMRC within 170 days of the date of import. That seems a reasonable and doable solution. The next milestone is 1 April and relates to some products of animal origin; we are of course communicating those changes. The more significant change happens from July 2021, when traders moving any goods will have to make full customs declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs.
Of course, we are taking many steps to make sure that we as a Government are ready and that traders are ready. We are making sure that HMRC can cope with the increased volumes by building on the successful delivery and upscaling of systems for the end of the transition period. I will write with more detail, particularly to my noble friend Lord Holmes, who I understand is a bit of an expert, so I will need some officials’ help with that.
We are also delivering new compliance capabilities to improve HMRC’s ability to spot and tackle non-compliance, including using data from when staged controls end. We are introducing a compliance approach to support traders to get ready and continuing to take robust action against those who choose not to comply. We are streamlining authorisation requirements, applications and processes to help meet the expected increase in demand and to improve effectiveness. We are also working with the intermediary sector to increase capacity and capability for traders to comply with the new declaration requirements.
Of course, all those changes need to be communicated, and the Government have done an enormous amount of outreach to hauliers and haulage managers. That started many months ago, and it continues. It is continually being improved. We are learning lessons and putting them in place. All information is provided on GOV.UK, and there is a haulier handbook, which is updated when needed. We engaged in the process of drafting the handbook with Logistics UK, the Road Haulage Association and many others to ensure that it was as clear as possible. It is published in English and 13 other EU languages. We will consider other languages if there is a demonstrated need, but we feel that we have enough at the moment. We also have 46 information and advice sites. When I first heard about them, I thought, “What use are they going to be?”, but more than 137,000 hauliers have visited them since they opened in November. I think that is astonishing. More than 11,400 hauliers have received specific border readiness consultations at our sites, so it is not surprising that less than 5% of trucks arriving at the border are fully non-compliant. We are doing all right.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach mentioned the inland border facilities. There are, and will be, a number of them. Information on all of them has been published on GOV.UK, with details of their logistics, their functions and their facilities. Hauliers are told what to expect at the site, what they need to prepare and any key documents that they need to bring.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was concerned about whether we have been talking to EU hauliers. I can reassure him that, of course, we have. We not only speak at their industry days, but we make speeches at their major conferences and events, and we have exhibition stands both physically and virtually. Much of that will continue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, asked whether we have digital interaction. We do. We have a dedicated haulier website with an embedded live chat function. This function has on average 35 in-depth conversations, lasting 20 minutes, each day, and around 700 hauliers a day ask advice. We have agents who speak English, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian. We are particularly pleased that that is working well. However, we understand that there are lessons to learn, and we have learned them. We must put that into our communications as we go through April and then through the second change in July.
I now turn to Northern Ireland support and the specific situation in Northern Ireland. The Government remain committed to supporting hauliers in moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. For example, we established the Trader Support Service—the TSS—which is designed to support all businesses impacted by the Northern Ireland protocol. The service is free to use, and it can complete declarations on behalf of traders without traders needing to engage directly with new digital customs systems and processes. More than 34,000 traders are registered to use the service, and thousands of declarations are being processed each day. The contact centre is, of course, providing additional support. To date, the TSS has processed more than 68,000 goods movements, involving 200,000 consignments, since launching. The contact centre has more than 700 staff and answers more than 17,000 calls, with an average answering speed of six seconds.
Not only do we have the TSS but there is also the movement assistance scheme—MAS—which was announced to complement the existing TSS. It provides help to all those traders who move food or agricultural products for which specific sanitary and phytosanitary—SPS—controls apply. This means that a trader moving live animals or other animal or plant products does not need to pay to have them inspected. The MAS scheme also has a dedicated helpline for general enquiries for traders and, together these measures, it is making it easier to move agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
A third intervention in Northern Ireland was Defra’s digital assistance scheme—DAS—which supports the continued movement of agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It also addresses the costs and burdens of compliance with a protocol for industry. It uses digitised certification and verification processes and was backed by a major amount of government funding.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned groupage, which is a concern that we are well aware of. We have developed two groupage models, and they have been agreed. The guidance for these models for Northern Ireland was published on 29 January, and we will be looking to see how these models work and whether further improvements can be made.
Noble Lords will know that yesterday the Government went further to support trade between GB and NI. My noble friend Lord Frost is clear that progress needs to be made to address the direct and often disproportionate impact that aspects of the protocol are having on the citizens of Northern Ireland, contrary to its intended purpose. So, yesterday, following official-level notification to the Commission earlier this week, we set out temporary technical steps that largely continue measures that are already in place. They provide more time for businesses, such as supermarkets and parcel operators, to adapt to and implement the new requirements of the protocol.
For my noble friend Lord Attlee, I will speak very briefly on abnormally large loads. I am aware of this issue, and we have taken it up with the French Government via the British embassy. I will write with further details, but we hope to have it resolved.
I have not covered haulage drivers, but I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that they are towards the top of my list of things to do. It is a significant issue, and the Government are doing a significant amount on apprenticeships, but it is time for me to speak to the industry because I believe that it has to step up and start looking at ways to recruit its own drivers. It is critical.
To the noble Lord, Lord Snape, I say that of course we want to see a switch to rail freight where it is feasible. We had an Oral Question on this recently. It forms part of the Government’s plans for the future.
All the measures I have mentioned today highlight the fact that my department and the Government are supporting hauliers to transport goods internationally on many fronts.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned. I remind Members to sanitise their chairs and desks before leaving the Room.