Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Dr Steve Aiken OBE (Chairperson)
Mr Keith Buchanan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister KC
Mr Pat Catney
Miss Jemma Dolan
Mr Philip McGuigan
Mr Maolíosa McHugh
Mr Matthew O'Toole
Mr Jim Wells


Mr Geoff Potter, Gray and Adams
Mr Peter Summerton, McCulla Ireland
Mr John Martin, Road Haulage Association
Mr Mark Tait, Target Transport

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Road Haulage Association

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): I welcome John, Mark, Geoff and Peter. The session is being reported by Hansard. The witnesses will make opening statements, for which they are allowed five minutes each, with 15 minutes in total for all opening statements, before questions. Who will lead on?

Mr John Martin (Road Haulage Association): Chairman, I will do the initial introduction and then hand over to the other witnesses, if that is OK with you.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Certainly. I am more than happy.

Mr Martin: I thank the Committee for the invitation to brief members on the continuing impact of the new trading arrangements between GB and Northern Ireland and the outworkings of the Northern Irish/Irish protocol.

It is accepted that some businesses may have benefited from the new trading arrangements, if their sole or main market is in the EU. However, the vast majority of trade by Northern Ireland businesses is with GB, and, in particular, that includes the strong agri-food and manufacturing sectors in Northern Ireland. Any distortion of that trade has a knock-on effect on logistics, as most of the product is moved via road transport. Logistics is a low-margin, highly efficient, just-in-time service that has been blown apart by the new trading arrangements. That will affect the vast majority of consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland.

That is the reason for inviting along three Road Haulage Association (RHA) members. They are from three very different sectors: one is from pure logistics, another is related to manufacturing and the third is in freight forwarding. I will not go into any detail on the impact of the protocol, because these three folk will cover it in sufficient detail. They will describe the effects that it is having on the viability, efficiency and economics of their businesses.

I hand you over to Geoff Potter, who is the managing director of Gray and Adams (Ireland) Ltd.

Mr Geoff Potter (Gray and Adams): Thanks for that, John. I echo John's thanks to the team. It is great to have the opportunity to speak to everyone. I also take the opportunity to thank John and the RHA for their support at a time when most bodies are disregarding what businesses on the ground are saying. I appreciate all that the RHA has done to get us to this stage.

It is worthwhile to pick up on some of the comments that John made about the benefits of the protocol. Undoubtedly, there are benefits from it in terms of access to European mainland markets. However, for a company such as Gray and Adams — 90% of our business remains in Northern Ireland or goes back to GB — it has been a lose/lose scenario, to put it diplomatically. Others would have other words for it, but it has been tough. We are at a stage where the current system is dysfunctional, bureaucratic and, basically, unsustainable in the longer term.

I do not want to use today as a means of moaning about the problems that we have had over the last eight and a half months, because business has put forward proposals to improve the situation. Those proposals include a redefinition of the term "at risk", so that it would include only goods that are at risk of going into the Republic of Ireland. The proposals also include a simplification of the current supplementary declaration process, which is extremely bureaucratic, and having an element of digitisation or computerisation. That would come into play as well in the refined process. The nicest, most positive thing that has happened over the last eight and a half months has been the Government's latest Command Paper of July 2021, where finally we have a framework that we can move forward on. We have an official recognition of the problems that my colleagues and I will talk about. It is nice to see those officially recognised, because, in the first months of this year, they were simply being disregarded. I do not suggest that the three steps that I have put in my report will be the answer. Peter Summerton will say more about sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks. SPS is a nightmare — there is no doubt about it — but the three suggestions put forward by business, which I alluded to, would be a step in the right direction.

For me, this is about where we go from today. How can we move things forward? Businesses must be part of the solution. We cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and watch what has been a major car crash happening. We need to roll our sleeves up, get out there and pick up the pieces. We are happy to do that.

I will finish with the words of Baroness Hoey in the House of Lords on Monday:

"The problem for establishment committees ... is that they go for the well-known, regular commentators, and they know what they are going to say before they turn up. Those at the grass roots of what is happening in Northern Ireland get ignored, not listened to."

Once again, I thank the Committee for allowing us to present today, and I thank you for listening to the grassroots.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Thank you very much indeed, Geoff.

Mr Martin: I bring in Mark Tait, the owner and manager of Target Transport.

Mr Mark Tait (Target Transport): Hello, folks and Committee Chair. Thank you very much for listening to us today.

I will not keep you too long with my summary. I sent you a fairly comprehensive breakdown of what we have experienced since 1 January this year. Needless to say, I agree very much with what Geoff has said. As we see things at the minute, the protocol does not work for our type of business.

Haulage is clearly at the forefront and coalface of getting goods across the Irish Sea. We have to remember that that happens in both directions. The bureaucracy that we face as a small family-run company is getting to the stage where it is almost unsustainable. We know that there is possibly more coming down the pipeline when grace periods end, and I do not think that we can cope with that.

From our point of view, having to move across the Irish Sea goods that, we know, are not destined for the Republic of Ireland or EU market is an absolute bureaucratic mess. I will give you an example. Yesterday, I counted about 45 shipments that we moved in one day. Three of them were destined for ROI, yet I had to do declarations for all 45 shipments. That takes time. That is administration, that administration costs money, and we do not have the staff to compete with the bigger companies. We are seriously concerned, in a business like ours, that we are somewhat in a race to the bottom to compete with bigger companies.

I reiterate what Geoff said about the Command Paper. It is a sensible step forward. That term "at risk" needs to be seriously redefined. If we get to the stage where we are declaring that goods are at risk and the other freight is not being declared at risk coming into Northern Ireland, that is a workable first-step solution. However, at the minute, we do not see any real progress.

I know that Peter will have plenty to say on SPS. Guys, it has just got to the stage when we are seriously considering the future of our business because of the way things operate. Whether we continue after the end of this year will depend on what comes in the next few months between the UK and the EU.

I will hand over to Peter —.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Mark, just before you go.

Mr Tait: Yes, go on.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): What you said there worries me considerably. You, as a small business, are obviously looking at your cash flow and other issues.

Mr Tait: Yes.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): I do not want to put you in a position, but what you have said, I think, has a lot of resonance with the Committee and should have a lot of resonance with everybody in the Assembly. If businesses like yours are really concerned about whether you will still be a going concern by the early new year, that is really worrying. From our perspective, is there anything we can do? We do not want you to be in that position.

Mr Tait: I thank you for your comment. I have had regular meetings with the Trader Support Service (TSS), and I am sure that you have seen my written submission. The system simply, from a groupage model, is not fit for purpose. We do not have a sustained, modern, efficient groupage model there for us to move freight in the way that we moved it prior to 1 January this year. We knew that things were going to change, but the bureaucracy involved is horrendous. I will give you an example. We are moving freight that is not bought or sold. We are moving goods back from guys who are on site. We simply cannot understand why we have to go through that bureaucratic nightmare when we know that those goods are never going to leave Northern Ireland. They are coming back to Northern Ireland for reprocessing or for something else to happen to them. Sometimes, I spend 10 to 15 minutes on a declaration, and, if we are doing 30 or 40 of them a day, that takes a lot of time between us and our staff. We simply cannot cope with the pressure.

Mr Peter Summerton (McCulla Ireland): Thank you, Chair, for the opportunity to speak to the Committee. First, I will give a brief introduction to McCulla Ireland, which has depots in Lisburn and Dublin. We service the internal Irish market, North and South, as well as movements between GB and Northern Ireland and GB and the Republic of Ireland. We have operator's licences in both jurisdictions. Along with that, we have a sustainability model. We highly value the future, and we have set up our own anaerobic digestion plants to create gas not only to generate electricity for our cold stores but to fuel our vehicles. Against that backdrop, our commitment to Northern Ireland and to sustainability can clearly be seen.

Along with RHA, we worked through the models for Brexit for 2019 and 2020. We were clear about how we saw the protocol manifesting itself, especially, as Mark suggested, in the groupage model. Quite simply, what happened here is that an international supply chain model for customs and SPS has been applied to our regional, fully integrated, just-in-time delivery network throughout the UK. I will focus only on our Northern Ireland-GB and GB-Northern Ireland activities for the purpose of the Committee.

A key point is that, because we operate for food service, retail, hospitality and manufacturing, we have a unique viewpoint. We are not in any one camp. We operate across the whole food sector. The greatest challenge that we have seen is this: how did government expect the protocol to work? We are called to many meetings to describe how it is not working, but how did they expect it to work, when those international rules are applied to the domestic integrated supply chain? It increases time, it increases cost, and it increases complexity.

If we go straight to the SPS checks, which are designed around bulk movements, we see that they hamper the movement of vehicles between GB and ROI. In order to follow the process, you have to give to the veterinary official in GB the vehicle trailer number that you intend to use for your movement. That removes all flexibility from the planning process, because, at that point, the vehicle is locked. If anything changes and the load gets cancelled or delayed, the driver and vehicle cannot be diverted anywhere else because they have been locked to that job.

The system is so inflexible because it is designed around sea containers. When we look at how the SPS rules are applied to mixed pallets, we see that, although the rules are designed around commodities that are moved in bulk, they are now being applied to basic restaurant single-pallet deliveries that might have 20, 30 or 40 different commodities on them, requiring 10, 12 or 15 different health certificates. In turn, whenever that load gets on to the vehicle and gets to the port of Belfast, some of the deliveries are subject to compulsory checks. That prevents me from even planning for that lorry coming off the 7.00 am Birkenhead boat to go out with my delivery vehicles that morning, because I do not know whether the truck will be held at the port for one, two, three, four or five hours. It adds more time, more cost and more complexity.

The sheer inflexibility of the system is challenging everybody. When I work through with our colleagues in DEFRA and DAERA the problems that people have, the biggest is that people cannot get the trailer numbers to work in sequence with the export health certificate (EHC). Coming through the port of Belfast, these are seen as conformance issues. We do not see them like that at McCulla Ireland.

We are taking the pain and the costs, and others are seeing them as conformance issues.

When we look at our Dublin operations, we can see what the future looks like. We can see what no easements looks like regarding those movements between GB and a third country, which is effectively what will happen with Northern Ireland. The movements between GB and the Republic of Ireland have been massively curtailed. We are operating with a supermarket on a day-one-for-day-10 ordering profile, because it takes that long to operate the paperwork. It used to be a day-one-for-day-two service, and it is now a day-one-for-day-10 service, because they have to get all the documentation and the commodities right before that trailer can even leave the port. We have a view of what life looks like after easements, and it is not a pretty view.

As we move forward and as we look to the challenges that the business has, groupage between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is almost on its knees. The only people who are moving groupage between GB and NI are people who have been doing it through 2017, 2018 and 2019. There are no new entrants to the market. We have picked up a lot of business from other hauliers that simply do not want to touch groupage, but it is the lifeblood. In fact, if you look at it from the point of view of the product cycle or the service cycle, you will see it as the babies being born and entering the market that then grow into larger businesses and larger supply chains to Northern Ireland. Those products simply are not moving. The feeling in GB is really clear: "Why would I bother starting to do business with Northern Ireland? It is too complex, it is too costly, it takes too much time, and I'm trying to set up a new business. I can't really be bothered with that". We have seen our groupage network being really curtailed.

When I look at the challenges of SPS, I think that it is absolutely remarkable to see Her Majesty's Government extending the SPS checks on goods from the EU entering GB until July next year. That tells me that the Government have worked out that there is no credible threat to the UK food supply chain from products moving from the EU 27 to GB. Why did we have to introduce SPS checks between GB and Northern Ireland on day one? I will give you a clue about that. I got my first groupage process from our colleagues at DAERA on 31 December 2020 at 4.56 pm, giving us four minutes of working time before the first shipments were checked, yet the risk is so perceivably low that the checks into GB have been allowed to be delayed for a further nine months.

There must be a move towards mutual enforcement. It is the only way that time, cost and complexity can be removed from the supply chain. Northern Ireland operating as a third country to GB simply will not work for the distribution that we do. Again, in a meeting that we had with DEFRA in 2020, I called it out that, if we had started with these rules, we would not have ended up with this distribution chain. We have now had the rules enforced, and that is wrecking this distribution chain and this profile. There is no upside for Northern Ireland haulage, and there is no upside for Northern Ireland businesses that trade with GB. The fewer movements there are between GB and Northern Ireland, the more pressure there is on Northern Ireland factories to get goods moved back to GB, because they are simply removing capacity from the market. We see a clear impact of the checks on factories, because products are slower to get across the Irish Sea to the factories, which makes them slower to process at the factories, which are already dealing with COVID or with shortages of people to work in their plants. We see orders coming late out of those factories, trying to get back across GB, and it is just far too strained.

I have pages from which I could talk for days on this, but I will follow Mark's example and Geoff's example and keep it to the point. Business survives by managing time, by managing cost and by managing complexity. All three of those things have been massively increased by the imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol. We are asked, "What is the alternative to the protocol?". There are lots of alternatives. Effectively, goods flow in a circle. In its transactions, GB has been able to mitigate all the risks that the EU perceives there to be in goods coming from GB to Northern Ireland. There are no checks going in the opposite direction. When we look at the benefits for Northern Ireland, we have to challenge ourselves and say, "How will we check goods coming from the Republic of Ireland, through Northern Ireland, to GB? Will the checks take place at Northern Ireland ports? What pressure will that put on Northern Ireland hauliers?".

I wrote to Christine Middlemiss on the issue. She replied that, due to the cumulative impact of HGV driver shortages, ongoing COVID supply chains and new requirements, imported products of animal origin are being considered at a senior level in government, because maintaining food supply flows into GB is a top priority. I suggest to the Committee that maintaining food supplies into Northern Ireland is a top priority for us. That cannot be done through a two-tier system where some businesses benefit from easements and others do not. Our food service businesses are general trade businesses. The self-employed people and small businesses — the lifeblood — in the economy are being hit most by the system. The large retailers are protected by easements. It is notable that several of the trade bodies that speak of "ironing out" some of the protocol problems have strongly welcomed the fact that their sectors have not been influenced or have had the easements extended, because they do not like how the future will look when the easements are lifted. We have to look at the future of all the small businesses in Northern Ireland. They are the lifeblood of our economy, and our major supplier — GB — and our major market — GB — are extremely curtailed by the protocol arrangements.

I will welcome anybody who wants to come to McCulla Ireland to see how the new processes work. We can demonstrate how they work. We can show the technicalities and everything — the time and the cost — involved in making them work. I especially welcome those who think that the protocol simply requires "ironing out", because, as can be seen from our Dublin operations, its impact, if there were no easements, would be extremely visible to every consumer in Northern Ireland. At the moment, the impact is being seen only on price stickers, but in future we will see it in availability and product quality, and it will affect the poorest in society most.

Mr Chairman, thank you for your time. I will hand back to John.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): OK. Thanks very much indeed, Peter. John, would you like to sum up? I will then open it up to the Committee for questions.

Mr Martin: The three guests have covered everything extremely well. I will add one thing, which is that a lot of the schemes that have been introduced to assist businesses to move product from GB, including the Trader Support Service, the movement assistance scheme and the digital assistance scheme, have been funded by central government. However, they will not be funded for ever. If the trading arrangements remain in place, there will be a considerable increase in costs over and above the additional costs that we are already experiencing with the additional bureaucracy and so forth. We have seen only the tip of the iceberg, if this thing should continue. We need fundamental change to ensure that products can move freely in future. Thank you, Chairman.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): OK. Thank you very much indeed. I will pass to the Committee now.

Mr McHugh: Tá fáilte romhaibh uilig. You are all very welcome. Thank you for your presentations as well.

Talking about costs, you will probably agree that, given Brexit, there were always going to be additional costs; in fact, anyone might think the same, when Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said that he was prepared to live with the loss of 40,000 jobs in the North of Ireland. Do you accept that there were always going to be additional costs with Brexit?

Mr Martin: I will come in on that initially. The additional costs that Northern Ireland businesses and consumers face are a consequence of the additional bureaucracy under the protocol as opposed to Brexit. We do most of our trade with GB, so there is a significant and disproportionate impact on businesses in Northern Ireland. The additional costs that we are experiencing in Northern Ireland are greater than those experienced by people in GB.

Mr Summerton: May I step in there for a second, John? Again, I will answer that question in the whole because our vehicles, obviously, move in circles; they do not just move in one direction. I suggest clearly — I can demonstrate it and make it very measurable — that the cost of moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is extremely more expensive than moving goods between the Republic of Ireland and GB, simply due to the level of checks, documentation requirements and everything that is required to do those movements. Those movements are being hampered by time and complexity, whereas movements the other way would not be hampered in that way. The clear answer to that question would be some form of mutual enforcement, which would allow a lot of costs to be removed from the processes.

When we look at the costs that are being deployed for SPS checks, not a single shipment, as far as I am aware, has been turned back from Larne, Belfast or Warrenpoint ports because the product is unsafe. It is because of the documentation — a box was not ticked or something like that. Those are the issues that we find. The fact that Lord Frost has extended the time for those checks to GB until July next year demonstrates that there is no inherent risk to the GB food supply chain from the EU 27. Why do we perceive that there is a risk in the GB food supply chain coming across to Northern Ireland? That is where a substantial amount of the cost would be.

Brexit was never going to be free. There were going to be some costs, but the costs that we see are prohibitive. The principle of the protocol was that it was not to affect the people of Northern Ireland or the supply chains to Northern Ireland, but the cost of that and its level affect both those things.

Mr McHugh: On that same point, your presentation implied all the disadvantages of the protocol. However, the protocol is a mechanism whereby the difficulties of Brexit can be resolved. Brexit brought with it all the additional problems that we are confronted with at present. I contend that the protocol is there to facilitate and allow the EU and the British Government to resolve those difficulties.

Much has been made here about supply lines and so on, as if that was something unique in the North of Ireland around our lack of supply lines. In fact, one cannot help but remark on the fact that trade between the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland, importing and exporting to each other's economies, has increased dramatically since the introduction of the protocol. John, in January of this year, your organisation said that your local supply chain was a week away from collapsing. That was in January, but nine months later, here we are, and the supply chains, in many respects, are still intact, except for the supply chains that are suffering the same way in Britain — not in the North of Ireland uniquely — as a result of Brexit. How do you feel about that, John? Do you think that your prediction last January was way out of sync? Do you accept that the warnings in January were alarmist and not based on reality?

Mr Martin: My comments in January were based on the initial feedback from the sector on the impact of the new trading arrangements. There was no clarity, and no information was coming from government.

The sector was and still is in turmoil. If you listen to the representatives from three sectors of business today, they will tell you that it is still in turmoil. They have had to make adjustments and changes to their processes, but it is still in turmoil and there are still considerable costs. The Government have introduced some schemes to try to ease in the new arrangements, and those schemes are time-limited and funded by government. There have been changes and easements, and that has softened it slightly, but there are still considerable costs coming down the tracks.

The trade figures that you quote are misleading, to say the least. I will bring Mark in to give his views on the trade figures.

Mr Tait: Thank you, John. I am not saying that North/South trade has not increased, but, in some respects, it has been somewhat displaced. Previously, GB to ROI trade was direct. Sadly, companies that have depots on both sides of the border are using Northern Ireland to move freight, so it is not necessarily that the volumes of sales have increased; it is just that the movement has changed. In some respects, as Peter said, it benefits companies in the Republic of Ireland more than companies in Northern Ireland because, at the minute, companies in the Republic of Ireland, given that there are no checks at the port in Belfast, are simply moving freight up from Dublin, Cork or wherever out through the port in Belfast and into GB with no checks. However, on the other side of things, if we bring freight from GB through Northern Ireland into the Republic or even just from GB to Northern Ireland, we are subject to a mountain of bureaucracy. The argument is: how is it fair on a company trading in Northern Ireland to have to do all that to bring it in, yet, for the company in the Republic, the ships are fed up through Belfast and are basically not subject to any checks at the port at all?

Mr McHugh: Mark, this is my last statement to you. You said that you are almost going to go out of business as a result of the protocol per se, and I would argue that you are faced with those consequences as a result of Brexit. I also think that business — we have often heard this — always finds a way, whether it is over, under or around the obstacle. Businesses can deal with that as long as they have clarity, know what they want to achieve and know the framework within which they have to work. I am sorry that you feel that you do not have that clarity at present, but I think that, with the protocol, you are more likely to achieve that clarity. Its implementation is a result of the consequences of Brexit.

Mr Tait: I will deal with that. As I said, there was a TSS meeting three weeks ago. I am not sure whether anyone has actually used the Trader Support Service and done any simplified frontier declarations — supplementary declarations — but I would not wish them on my worst enemy. It is now pushing full frontier declarations towards us, which in effect means full customs declarations to move freight from GB to Northern Ireland. We argued that that was simply not sustainable for companies of our size. As I stated in my submission, there are big companies out there that compete against us and have the staff who can do that door-to-door service and full frontier declarations. We cannot offer that service. We do not have the staff, and we do not have the resources to hire those staff. As Peter said, while there may be an increase in some movements, it is not an increase in turnover, so we are not making any additional money. We are simply administering more costs and more bureaucracy. Unless we have the staff to deal with that, if a customer says, "I want you to move goods from A to B, and can you do the full frontier declaration for me?", and we say no, that customer will go to a competitor.

Mr Summerton: Mark, I agree with you and will follow on. The key thing for me is that, in our movements between GB and NI, we are being asked by the UK Government to do things that the UK Government cannot replicate on movements between the EU and GB. We are being asked to do things between GB and NI that the UK Government have had to further delay between the EU and the UK.

I will pick up on the point that was made about scaremongering. That is an improper comment. I suggest that we were canaries in the coal mine. We were highlighting the fact that, if continuous pressure was put on the supply chain, the supply chain would break. The fact that the first day that the full checks were supposed to be put in place for supermarkets, which was originally supposed to be on April Fool's Day, has had to be delayed and is now is being delayed indefinitely clearly demonstrates that there was a clear threat to the Northern Ireland food chain to every consumer in Northern Ireland. Those two government movements have meant that our warning was listened to and heeded. It does not mean that our warning was incorrect. Subsequent warnings need to be heeded. We were days away. I do not know how many hours on the trot people normally work, but I did not have a day off in the first three months of this year, because I was trying to keep this working. That was based on the fact that all of us saw a collapse on 1 April. However, it took the Government until the middle of March to see the same collapse. It postponed those checks and has postponed them again indefinitely.

Perhaps that answers the question on where the challenges are coming from. We are being asked to do things in a time and space that nobody else can do them, and we are being asked to do them against a backdrop of extension after extension, because, when the Government see what is involved in them, they find that nobody else can do them either. That should answer the question.

Mr Potter: I will make a point here, Chair, if I may. I am not a politician; I am a business person. This follows the line of least resistance. It worries me that a lot of commentators think that this is easy. Mark and Peter have eloquently put forward the problems that we face. I will get down to brass tacks. If you look at the supplementary declaration process, you will see that it has 23 data fields. It is those 23 data fields and their application that cause most of the problems that we are face. Why is it so complicated? That is the question. Why is it that all goods coming into Northern Ireland, certainly those with Gray and Adams, are subject to a supplementary declaration process and full frontier declaration, despite the fact that the majority of them will not go into the Republic of Ireland, regardless of what is mentioned in the press? My question in response to that is this: why are we in this situation? Why have we not got this situation sorted out by putting in place workarounds, as has been suggested, so that 90% of my business that comes in here does not have to go through a bureaucratic process that means nothing to anyone? There are valid points on both sides, but we need to look at the complexity of the current arrangement, which is bureaucratic and more difficult than it needs to be.

Mr McHugh: We are in that situation because of Brexit.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): We are asking questions; we are not here to make political statements.

Mr Allister: Thank you, gentlemen, for your evidence. It was stark and clear. Unlike Mr McHugh, I will not make light of it. It is, for business purposes, a life-and-death situation. It is clear that it arises because of the absurdity of our biggest partner, GB — a country of which we are meant to be a part — being decreed under the protocol as a third country. Since it has been decreed by the protocol as a third country, it is like importing from Brazil rather than Bradford. That, allied with the presumption that all goods are at risk of going to the Republic, has created this intolerable situation. That is not the result of Brexit; it is the result of the denial of Brexit, because the protocol leaves us not in the United Kingdom but in the EU as far as trade is concerned.

Bring it home to us, if you can, the practical differences that exist. Will you outline what administration was involved this time last year when bringing in a load of goods from GB to Northern Ireland, and what it is like today? We are still in the shallows of the protocol. We have not got to the high-water mark because of the grace period extensions. In understandable terms, will you demonstrate to us what it is like to bring goods from GB today, administratively and bureaucratically, compared with a year ago?

Mr Summerton: I am probably in a better place to answer that question. A year ago, one of my major high street retailers that was selling foodstuff and groceries placed an order with its distribution centre in Great Britain, be it in England, Scotland or Wales. That order was picked live on the same day as the receipt of order. Our nearest, and so most efficient, available truck called in to lift those goods. The goods were brought across to our distribution centres, either in Dublin for the Republic of Ireland or Lisburn, and broken onto regional vehicles going to each county for delivery on day two or, at a push, day three.

Now, the same company places an order. That order goes into a preparation process to create all the environmental health certificates for the products. People struggle to pick the products in the warehouse because they have to pick them and store them while they prepare the documentation. It creates a work in progress. I have to declare the trailer number, which will not be the nearest available trailer; it will be the number of a trailer that I have had to put into a parking position to make it available for that retailer to load their goods onto. That process takes up to six days.

We then have to give pre-notification on that vehicle, which is 24 hours, so you are on day seven. The vehicle comes across on day eight, when it may be subject to checks, which takes you to day nine, and, because it does not come off the boat in time to hit the county vehicles, it is day 10. If you take 10 days off the shelf life of most fresh produce, it simply does not work. If you take 10 days off the shelf life of frozen products, it has no major impact. All we have done to frozen produce is to add cost and delay, because the space on the supermarket shelf, at that stage, may have been emptied because of a warm weather event. The process is no longer reactive enough to keep that supply chain going and that shelf stacked, and, at times, it is simply being removed. Jim, I have worked through that in simple terms to demonstrate that it has gone from a two- or three- day process to a 10-day process, showing each of the manageable steps. That is without there being a problem.

Mr Allister: Who pays for that?

Mr Summerton: If there is a problem and the trailer gets held, you now have 26 pallets of mixed picked product on that trailer. That is potentially 26 delivery points that are not receiving goods, even though only one of the pallets may have a problem. That will have to be stripped off. Typically, that product will be checked and found to be fine.

I will give you an idea of some of the products. All peppers, chillies and oranges coming from GB to Northern Ireland should be subject to 100% checks. If there is a box of oranges, peppers or limes at the bottom of any of those pallets, according to the rules, they should all be physically checked. That trailer should be stripped. At that point, you could be into day 13 or day 14 before that is done, given the facilities in Belfast, if the rules are followed.

Mr Allister: That is not because any of the goods are at risk of going to the Republic but because they are allegedly coming from a third country, is it not?

Mr Summerton: Yes. It is because they are allegedly coming from a third country, but the complete paradox is that GB does not grow very many oranges, limes or peppers. Their source origin is typically the EU. EU goods are being checked coming back into the EU from GB.

Mr Allister: On whom does the cost of all that fall?

Mr Summerton: Ultimately, Jim, all costs fall on the consumer. Ultimately, the consumer pays the price.

Mr Allister: What is the impact of that on the long-term commitment of GB suppliers to Northern Ireland?

Mr Summerton: I will say this again. The impact is that, if a person who is moving products, especially British products, to which we were referring there, between GB and NI has a national contract to supply England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they will do their utmost to get out of the North of Ireland piece. Quite simply, we are seen as being too complicated and too costly and as taking up too much time.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Thanks. Did you want to come in as well, Mark?

Mr Tait: Yes. I will just pick up on that in relation to the groupage model. We do not do SPS, but I have every sympathy for Peter, who does. Prior to 1 January, we were basically a "day one for day two" or "day one for day three" service. A customer could ring us up in the morning to book the job, we picked it up on the same day, it was back in Belfast the following morning, and it was delivered either that day or on day three, depending on where it was going. We have now told our customers that, from 1 April, there will be no collections on day one. We spend day one gathering information such as commercial invoices from the supplier in GB. We then complete our frontier declaration as a freight forwarder. We do what is called a consignment model. We pass that consignment on to our haulage company on our network in GB, who physically ships the goods. Previously, the depot would have picked the goods and shipped them to the hub in the evening. The hub then used its automated system for the deliveries, and that was them merrily on their way to Belfast. Unfortunately, however, as of January, that automated system is defunct, as I pointed out. We cannot utilise multiple lorries for the same goods, and we cannot currently physically use the capacity on the lorries. Half the time, the lorries are shipped to Belfast and are only three quarters full as opposed to full to capacity. That adds cost, because the shipping and fuel costs are still the same. That all adds cost for the customer.

One thing that annoyed us greatly was that the Trader Support Service was advertised as a free-to-use service. Of course, our customers said to us, "Oh, this is going to be free. There is no cost here". After we saw it on 17 December 2020, however, we knew right away that it would not be a free service to administer. Some companies or networks in GB charge as much as £35 or £40 per declaration. In other words, if one company moves six pallets from six suppliers, it could cost an additional £40 per pallet through the network simply to use the TSS service. As I said, TSS is trying to push us towards frontier declarations. If you were doing a full frontier declaration directly from GB to Dublin, the customs cost for export and import clearance would be roughly £100 per consignment. In effect, it could end up costing more for the customs declaration than it would to pay to move the freight. Rather than its being a "day one for day two" service, at the minute, where Peter comes from, if everything goes to plan — if there are no breakdowns and if you do not have to change anything — freight will now normally arrive on day three or day four and go out for delivery on day five. That is just from a general groupage point of view.

Mr Allister: Goodness me. I do not think any more questions are needed from me to demonstrate how unequal and unsustainable this situation is.

Mr Wells: That was very useful, although I see that one of your contributors is in shadow. He does not want too much fan mail from female watchers. If you are out there, I would like to see you at some stage, because all I can see is a dark shadow against the window.

I will be serious for a while. Am I right to believe that 94% of the goods that come from GB to Northern Ireland go no further? Is that figure correct? In other words, they do not go into the Irish Republic.

Mr Tait: It has been calculated that roughly 75% of freight coming from GB is for the Northern Ireland market alone, Mr Wells, and that 95% of the freight coming from GB will not be subject to duties or tariffs, regardless of where it goes. The whole argument was that the trade agreement was to negate all quotas and all tariffs, so it comes back to the argument that we have to administer an awful lot of bureaucracy to capture probably 5% of freight that might attract duties across the border.

Mr Wells: So the whole freight business is being held to ransom for 5% of the trade coming from England, Scotland and Wales. What would be wrong, in my naivety, in saying that we would stop that 5% coming in and tell people to bring it in by Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire or whatever, and to phase that out over, say, a two-year period? In other words, hauliers would be given the option of diverting that trade from Stranraer or Cairnryan to Larne or whatever, and going Holyhead to Dublin. What would be the impact if that were brought in to your industry?

Mr Tait: I will refer to Scotland. Our general groupage service is from Glasgow. We have a nightly service coming across and, generally, that trailer had both types of freight. That was prior to January. We had a trailer coming across every night. The majority of goods on it were for Belfast: perhaps two thirds for Belfast and one third for Dublin. Basically, it left Glasgow, got on a boat in Stranraer or Cairnryan, offloaded in Belfast the next morning and then went down to Dublin and offloaded. We are now diverting that Dublin freight via our Bradford hub, and Bradford directs it to Dublin. That is adding time and cost.

I am not sure whether the haulage industry as a whole would support your argument. The supply chains — north, south, east and west — are so interlinked. As Peter said, everything moves in a circle. I am not sure that that would necessarily work. I do not say that it would not work, but my honest answer is that I do not know.

Mr Summerton: In addition to that, I suggest that, if we look at the supply chain between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, it goes through Northern Ireland. If we look at the supply chain between Northern Ireland and the south of England, it used to go through Dublin but is now predominantly — really predominantly — using and compressing the services on the northern Irish Sea routes — from Larne and Belfast — which is why most people cannot get a booking on the boats.

When we look at historical data, we see that there is a sea change. In unfettered access, the one thing that was not protected were movements from Northern Ireland through the port of Dublin to the south of GB, which is really important to our agri-food businesses. They have to be able to hit southern English regional distribution centres on the same basis as their Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish competitors. Northern Ireland, basically, does not have the same access to the port of Dublin that we had in 2020 or 2019. Those are now taking a more costly and exposed route over the top from Larne. In answer to your question, Jim, some of the stuff

[Inaudible owing to poor sound quality]

data is incorrect. As we look forward, there has been a paradigm shift. One third of our agri-food freight used to go through the port of Dublin. That is not the case today. It is not unfettered access.

Mr Wells: Is there any evidence that people are bringing goods into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, claiming that they are for the Northern Ireland market only, and then shipping them into the Irish Republic, which is the fear of the EU? Is there any evidence that that is happening?

Mr Tait: All I will say is that haulage companies are asked to bring freight from point A in GB to point B in Northern Ireland. Once we deliver it, it is no longer our responsibility. I cannot really honestly answer that question. I have not seen it, and I can honestly say, yes, we move freight for customers from GB through Northern Ireland and into the Republic. We are readily declaring that we do so. That is our point: we are happy to do that, but why do we have to keep declaring freight that is only for the Northern Ireland market?

Mr Wells: That is the crucial point, because the vast bulk of goods will never leak into the European Union. Are you not looking for some form of trusted trader status, whereby companies will declare, "We will happily bring stuff from GB but, under pain of death, we will make absolutely certain that we are not responsible for leaking goods into the EU" — that is, the Irish Republic. Is that, plus a gradual moving of the very small number of goods that go into the European Union — that is, the Irish Republic — not the long-term solution rather than the protocol?

Mr Tait: Again, as we all mentioned, mutual enforcement of standards is possibly the solution, because the June agreement was supposed to do away with quotas and tariffs, so our argument is, "Why are we doing bureaucratic customs declarations to help to track customs duties and tariffs?". Yes; I suppose that the answer is that that is the way forward.

Mr Wells: Are any of your hauliers involved in the importation of medicines from GB to Northern Ireland?

Mr Tait: I have one company that I work with in Mallusk that did bring medical supplies in nightly from the Manchester area. The medicines used to be collected at maybe 3.00 pm/4.00 pm on day one and delivered in Belfast at 9.00 am/10.00 am on day two. That is now pushed out to days three, four and five in some cases.

Mr Wells: What would the implications be if, as we expected and may still happen, the directive on medicines is implemented? I understand that 98% of the medicines used in Northern Ireland come from the mainland. What would have happened had the Government persisted with the nuclear option of requiring them to go through the same process as other goods at the moment?

Mr Tait: God only knows, I suppose, is the short answer. Thankfully, we have not got to that situation. I think that the Government have seen sense to extend that grace period indefinitely. I was reading an article this morning about an organisation — I cannot remember its name — that said that even the proposals that the EU has suggested of processing, checking and labelling in GB before they are checked here will not work. That is a Northern Ireland medical organisation. The article might have been in the 'Belfast Telegraph'; I am not 100% sure. The organisation's argument is that the EU suggestion simply does not work either.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Thank you, Jim, for outlining clearly the position of the Ulster Unionist Party in our paper. Thank you very much indeed.

[Inaudible owing to poor sound quality.]

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Your invitation to join the party is in the post.

Mr Catney: That was political, Chair.

Mr O'Toole: I thank all of you for your evidence. It has been useful. Sadly, unfortunately, with our arrangements and a hard Brexit generally, it was always going to be hauliers who had to deal with the brunt of new trading arrangements. It will have been a difficult year for all of you.

Peter, I think, raised the issue of the circularity of east-west and North/South trade routes. Obviously, McCulla is North/South and east-west. Peter, you also mentioned that the port of Dublin was a critical point for moving goods from the whole island, including Northern Ireland, to the south of England, including the big — I have forgotten its name — in the Midlands —

Mr O'Toole: What is it called, sorry?

Mr O'Toole: No. I mean the big distribution hub that all the retailers use. Anyway, it is in the English Midlands somewhere. The main way to get from here to the south of England was to use the port of Dublin.

Jim Allister raised a point about this time last year. It is true to say that there is no "this time last year" for movement of goods, whether or not the protocol exists. The point is that there was going to be disruption, and if the disruption was not —

Mr Allister: Not from GB.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Through the Chair.

Mr O'Toole: The point is that, given that the fastest route to the south of England for goods from Northern Ireland is via the port of Dublin, and, as was said, the supply chains are circular, there was no means by which the supply chains on both islands would have been the same. I suppose that that is my question, Peter. Would the alternative, without a protocol, have been no disruption?

Mr Summerton: The protocol refers to the movement of goods. It does not protect us from the movement of services. As a haulier, we are treated as a GB haulier. We are allowed to do only two movements of cabotage. That means two collections or deliveries within the Republic of Ireland or one if we cross over into other EU member states. For me, as a haulier, the protocol does not protect our services; it protects only the movement of goods. In answer to your question, the protocol has not protected the movement of goods from Northern Ireland through the port of Dublin.

It has not given unfettered access from Northern Ireland through the port of Dublin, because all sorts of complexities are required for movements through that port, and I have highlighted those on numerous occasions through 2020 and 2021. Effectively, combining product going to the same English region from our Dublin and Lisburn collection points is a complete minefield at the minute.

Mr O'Toole: Agreed, but Dublin is in the EU.


Mr Summerton: the protocol allows the goods to move, but the hauliers are prevented from moving.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Peter, on a point of clarity, will you go over the cabotage point again? Are they allowed to do two pickups in the Irish Republic? What is the cabotage rule?

Mr Summerton: I will ask John Martin to come in, just to make sure that I get this absolutely right. John, will you cover cabotage?

Mr Martin: Yes, no problem, Peter. Just to clarify: my camera is not working; it is not that I want to hide my face or anything.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Do not worry about that.

Mr O'Toole: Do not worry, John. We are focusing on the information. If we were judging people by appearances, this Finance Committee would not be very well judged, but anyway.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Speak for yourself.

Mr Martin: I will answer the question about cabotage. You are allowed to do two cabotage journeys when you enter the South of Ireland. It is slightly different —

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): John, sorry, excuse me, will you quickly and very simply explain to the Committee what cabotage is? The cabotage point is quite important, but, unless you understand what it is, it does not necessarily resonate. That was a very important point that was made earlier. Go ahead.

Mr Martin: Cabotage is where a haulier who is registered in Northern Ireland and operates from Northern Ireland is allowed to go into an EU jurisdiction, laden or unladen, pick up a load in that jurisdiction and deliver that load within that jurisdiction. In other words, it is an internal movement within another country. A Northern Irish haulier going into the South of Ireland is allowed to do two of those within a seven-day period and come back out again.

Mr O'Toole: Is it fair to say that the protocol would be better if it allowed additional cabotage for Northern Irish hauliers so that they could do more pickups in the South?

Mr Summerton: The protocol does not address services, Matthew.

Mr O'Toole: I know that, but —

Mr Summerton: It simply does not address services.

Mr O'Toole: I agree, Peter. It is one of the things that I would have liked to be in the protocol, and I think it should be there. From your perspective, would you like to see more, whether in the protocol or in a separate agreement, service agreements for your business in the EU?

Mr Summerton: For clarity: with a Republic of Ireland operator's licence and a Republic of Ireland depot, it would be of no advantage to me whatsoever.

Mr O'Toole: OK. The RHA has been campaigning at a UK level, John, on the supply of drivers. That is a challenge in Britain. Is it a challenge here as well?

Mr Martin: Yes, Matthew, it is a challenge throughout EU, but particularly in Northern Ireland. As Peter said, the slowing down of the supply chain has created additional capacity issues and impacted on drivers.

Mr O'Toole: In Britain, part of the shortage is to do with the ability to work in Britain post Brexit.

Mr Martin: Yes, but it is not the sole issue with the availability of EU workers. There is a whole raft of issues, including IR35, the slowing of the supply chain, people not being attracted into the sector etc. A whole range of issues needs to be addressed. It is not just to do with the unavailability of EU workers.

Mr O'Toole: If I am reading the RHA point correctly, that is one of the issues. You are right that IR35 is an issue, and there are clearly others, but one of them is the new post-Brexit immigration rules and drivers not being able to work in the UK.

Mr Martin: You are 100% correct, Matthew, yes.

Mr O'Toole: Of course, that is not in the protocol. Anyway, that has been really helpful, and thank you for your evidence.

Mr Summerton: Matthew, I can add to the points on the driver issue. People movements are not in the protocol either, and, of our Northern Irish factories that we draw from every day, I am trying to think of a single one that has not told me, "I have a people problem". So, although the protocol does allow goods to move freely to the EU and to GB from Northern Ireland, you have to be able to produce those goods, and, at the minute, our factories are starved of people to produce goods. That means that some of the benefits that people perceive the protocol has are not there at all. Companies and factories are struggling to satisfy their existing GB markets in a repeat of the previous year, never mind taking advantage of some new market conditions.

Mr O'Toole: I completely agree, Peter

Mr Summerton: The protocol fails completely in that it is only for the movement of product, and it inhibits the supply chain and people movements to Northern Ireland.

Mr O'Toole: To be clear, Peter, I will say that that is not the protocol; that is Brexit. The protocol is just about the movement of goods. What you are saying is that the protocol does not include provision for Northern Ireland to have different immigration rules from the rest of the UK. That was never on the table. I agree with you that that is a real problem for our economy — I totally agree — and I also want moving goods into Northern Ireland to be more seamless. However, it is not the protocol's fault that the UK made the decision to stop the free movement of people. The fact that that is not in the protocol is a separate question. No one was ever putting that on the table. No one, including the Irish Government, ever suggested that. You are right that the UK Government should, in my view, negotiate free movement for all of us — for the whole of the UK — but it seems strange to pick that out as a failing of the protocol.

Mr Summerton: I am suggesting that the movement of goods and the market opportunity that is presented through the protocol are not actually there, because the rest of the Brexit arrangements mean that our factories cannot produce the extra volumes. That is in the protocol, and the carrot that the protocol dangles in front of Northern Ireland manufacturers is that they can ship to GB and to the EU. In reality, you have to be able to make the goods before you ship them.

Mr O'Toole: I appreciate everyone's evidence today. It has genuinely been useful. Thank you.

Mr Catney: Thanks, John, Mark, Geoff and Peter. I have laid out where I come from: I campaigned against Brexit from the start because I was not sure that we knew exactly what or where we were coming from or what we were all voting for at that time, and some of the outworkings are here today. I am a politician now, but a lot of my previous life was spent in business in Belfast, so I understand your position, especially yours, Mark, as yours is a small business. I understand having pressures that you have no control over and how they affect you. After listening to what you have said here today, I am genuinely concerned about the strains that that is putting on your business.

I will recap. The EU is particularly concerned about the purity of its single market and wants to keep its internal barriers in check because, if it does not do that, it means that every one of its members will collapse and remove themselves from it. There are more than 300 regulations, but it is my belief that, when the British Government brought out their detailed assessment of all of the implications for the United Kingdom and NI internal market, which is at the heart of the protocol, they never shared that publicly. Have they ever shared or offered to share their findings on that with anyone from business? I have never seen any of it.

I have a few other short questions. We had at the Committee a gentleman named David Henig from the European Centre for International Political Economy. He explained to us the regulations on products and services, and he also stated that there is a levy for Northern Ireland hauliers on diesel. There was a rebate for that. Can the Road Haulage Association comment on the evidence that suggested that access to an essential user rebate for fuel had been secured for Northern Ireland? Might that be a reason why we are finding that trade route? I heard you talk about the other parts of your trade route, but is that rebate for all fuel used when going through Scotland, England and down into Wales?

Lastly, will you tell me what you see as being the opportunities for the RHA from the protocol and how we can move to fix the protocol? It is not going away, and we need to fix it, but the only way in which we can to that is together and by highlighting the concerns, as you have done today.

Mr Martin: On fuel excise duty, as a consequence of the EU leaving the European Union on 1 January, all UK hauliers lost their entitlement to claim a fuel excise rebate. We reviewed the detail of the protocol and realised that there was a significant issue, particularly on the island of Ireland, where our hauliers were competing with Irish hauliers and were at a disadvantage because they were not able to access the fuel rebate scheme. We lobbied, on behalf of our members, the Southern Irish Government, the British Government and the European Commission, and, as a consequence, we were able to secure, at European level, entitlement to that rebate for Northern Irish hauliers only. The European Commission has accepted that that is an entitlement under the protocol. However, each member state that participates in the scheme must accept that, and, at this time, only two countries have acknowledged that they will reinstate the rebate for Northern Irish hauliers: Belgium and Southern Ireland. We are still engaging with HMRC, which is working on our behalf to lobby the other participating countries to ensure that Northern Irish hauliers continue to have that entitlement. That entitlement is worked through the provisions of the protocol.

Mr Catney: I have one last question. Peter has two licences: one in Northern Ireland and one in Southern Ireland. How difficult is it to get a Southern licence? Can you go in and out of the South as often as you like when you have it? Do you need to have a depot in the South to get a Southern licence, or is that part of the two-run rule that you spoke of earlier?

Mr Summerton: We run a distribution centre at Ballymount in Dublin. Our Republic of Ireland deliveries are made via Ballymount, and our Northern Ireland deliveries are made via Lisburn, and we trunk vehicles between the two depots. Basically, there are bulk movements between the two depots, but those goods go on to regional vehicles and on into the counties. That model existed pre Brexit and

[Inaudible owing to poor sound quality]

before the UK entered the EU in the first instance. It is a basic trunking system. We have seen that the trunking system between the UK depots and Northern Ireland is where the fractures are, because what were normal movements — from Glasgow to Belfast, from Edinburgh to Belfast and from Liverpool to Belfast — are now abnormal, even though they are within the UK's jurisdiction.

Mr Tait: May I respond to Mr Catney's first point about protecting the EU's single market? The Northern Ireland protocol clearly states that it is there to protect the EU's single market, but it is also there to respect the UK's internal market. As a

[Inaudible owing to poor sound quality]

of a delivery service, I am administering all the rules to protect the EU's single market but getting no benefits from the UK's internal market. You asked what the benefits will be. I do not see there being any. Suggestions have been made about mutual enforcement rather than this rigid bureaucracy, and that is the way forward. We cannot continue to apply in Northern Ireland rules that are not being applied anywhere else in the UK, just to move goods into a small regional economy. The system simply is not designed for that.

Mr Catney: May I go back to Mark? We met Professor Hayward, who argued that the bureaucratic and logistical issues experienced by NI traders were largely a consequence of the wider policy position associated with the UK's withdrawal from the EU, and, in particular, the United Kingdom Government's decision to exit the EU customs union. That, it was argued, was further complicated by the passage of the UK Internal Market Act, which served as a political distraction from the practical process of easing administrative burdens associated with the protocol. Therefore, it probably points back to Her Majesty's Government.

Mr Tait: We can work only with what we have in front of us here in NI —

Mr Catney: I understand. I am with you on that.

Mr Tait: — and I cannot speak for the UK Government, much as, sometimes, I would love to.

Mr Catney: I like to put the blame where the blame should sit, Mark. Thank you.

Mr Tait: I understand that, Mr Catney. All I am saying is that we are working with a system that simply does not work for us. You are asking what the solutions are, and we are saying, "Please define 'at risk' for us, because, at this moment, as hauliers, everything is 'at risk', simply to protect the EU single market." As I said, we get no benefit from the UK's internal market. From our point of view, whether it is the protocol or protocol 2.0, it makes no difference to us as long as it works. We are simply saying, "Please remove the paperwork and bureaucracy that we do not need to do and should not have to, and we will happily administer the bits that we do have to do."

Mr Catney: Mark, I am with you on this, and I am in complete agreement with what you have said. We need to get it sorted out to make it easier. At the start, I told you that I was in business myself. It is great when you have things that you can control and make work for your business, but there is stuff here that is completely outside all of our control at the moment.

Mr Tait: I appreciate that, yes.

Mr K Buchanan: Thank you, gentlemen, for your presentation. It has been very informative. Over the past months — nearly a year — all I have been hearing is, "implementation in full". Today, I hear the words "car crash", "groupage is on its knees", "wrecking the distribution" and "SPS is a nightmare". I do not know how those square with implementation in full. That said, the grace periods have been extended — Jim Wells briefly touched on that a wee while ago — but, if they had not been extended and implementation were to happen tomorrow, what would that do to your industry and the work that you carry out day to day?

Mr Tait: From my point of view, under the light-touch regulation that we were supposed to have — I do not consider it light-touch — probably one in 10 trailers in groupage is pulled for checks. If every trailer is pulled for checks, that pushes our service out from what was a one-day or two-day service to a service of four, five and, closer to what Peter was talking about, maybe a week or eight or 10 days in some cases, depending on when goods are collected. All that it is doing, as far as I am concerned, is unnecessarily causing more and more delays.

Mr K Buchanan: Does anyone else want to comment on that?

Mr Potter: I will come in on that as well. We manufacture the trailers that the hauliers use. We are trying to plan manufacturing, and, on the basis of what Peter and Mark have said, it will become almost impossible to manufacture in Northern Ireland, because you do not know when you will get your product. There are no benefits. I know that you are mainly looking at haulage today, but there is a knock-on effect on manufacturing and other businesses.

It will come to the point where, for Northern Ireland manufacturers, Northern Ireland will become a backwater. We will not be able to compete with our GB compatriots who do not have to go through the bureaucracy that we have to go through. Maybe it will not happen this year or next year, but, if I were a manufacturer looking at coming into Northern Ireland — a manufacturer who is mainly tied in to the GB market — I would have second thoughts about setting up in Northern Ireland at the minute.

Mr Martin: People have to realise that the haulage sector is a highly efficient, just-in-time, low profit margin industry. The new trading arrangements have completely blown that model apart, to the extent that it is highly inefficient, more costly and not just-in-time. The added cost will have to be passed on to the manufacturing base and the consumer. If it is added on to the manufacturing base, it means that the products that we sell, be that internally in the UK market or further afield, may be more expensive. We may be too expensive in relation to the products that we produce. The new arrangements have a knock-on effect on the overall economy.

Mr Summerton: The answer is clear: Great Britain has postponed all SPS checks on goods coming from the EU to GB until at least July next year. It has done so because they were a threat to the food supply chain coming into GB. Those were Lord Frost's comments, and I do not think that we know any better than him. That is perceived to be the step that has to be seen coming the other way too.

Mr K Buchanan: I have one final question. At the start, John referred to the Command Paper. What are the thoughts and opinions of all of you on the Command Paper and what it does or does not bring to the table? Would that solve a lot of your problems?

Mr Martin: We were one of the few trade bodies that welcomed the Command Paper. I welcomed its content and the fact that the UK Government are trying to force a resolution to ensure that the difficulties that we are experiencing are dealt with. We are now in the middle of September, nine months into this, and there is still no movement. I appreciate that people have said that I said at the outset that the industry was about to collapse. Yes, it was, but there have been easements and adjustments, and more information has come out. We are still under severe pressure, and we see the Command Paper as a move forward to try to bring resolution to the issues.

Mr K Buchanan: That does not sound —

Mr Potter: Sorry to encroach. I endorse John's comments. I said earlier that the Command Paper is an excellent framework for moving forward. I have one disagreement, which is with paragraph 77, which talks about a "standstill". We need a standstill at this time, but it cannot be an indefinite standstill. We need to get to the stage where we are starting to implement what the Command Paper says. Honestly, I do not want to face 2022 with no changes. I would like to see more politicians, right across the board, trying to move forward. For the good of all people in Northern Ireland, let us get these easements in place to make doing business better.

Mr K Buchanan: Right. Thank you, gentlemen. It is disappointing that some are not hearing the message, whether that is today or every day. There is not one day when my office is not contacted about these issues happening all across Northern Ireland. We talk about COVID bubbles, but some people are in a protocol bubble. It is not about politics. They just do not understand the damage that it is causing, day and daily. They are either not listening or they do not want to hear. I am certainly listening, and our party will not be found wanting on this.

Mr Catney: That is a political statement.

Mr K Buchanan: It is a good one.

Mr Catney: It does not matter. This is not the place for it.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Gentlemen, gentlemen. Over to you, Jemma.

You would never guess that there is an election coming up, would you?

Ms Dolan: Thank you for your presentations. Most of my questions have been answered. I will follow on from Matthew's line of questioning around leaving the EU labour market and the impact that that has had on the availability of drivers. Recently, there have been many reports about the terrible pay and conditions that many haulage drivers have had to endure. What are your experiences of that, and what can be done to tackle that issue? I am the Sinn Féin spokesperson on workers' rights. That is why I am taking a particular interest in that.

Mr Martin: I can comment generally from the perspective of the Road Haulage Association. We accept that there has been an issue with drivers' conditions in the past: having to endure regional distribution centres, the availability of services at service stations and rates of pay. I am sure that you have picked up through the local and national press that HGV drivers' rates of pay are rising to the extent that they are now paid more than lawyers. Things are changing. Things had to change, and they are moving in the right direction.

The haulage sector was generally undervalued by everyone, from the consumer through to business. That has changed, partly as a consequence of COVID and partly as a consequence of the lack of drivers. They have had to promote the industry to try to attract new blood.

Mr Summerton: John, may I add to that? Jemma, this is an important point that people in your position can drive forward for us. I have been in this sector for only five years, and women are less represented than in any other that I have worked in. Conditions for drivers on the roads are so poor: services, service stations and things like that. Both the UK and Ireland need to massively invest in such facilities. We need to tap into that 50% of the workforce. You will see some of the work that we have done and some of the programmes that the RHA has brought in to try to attract women to the sector. When we talk to ladies, we ask them why they will not stay in the sector; and they tell us that it is because of the conditions on the road and the lack of services. If you get into one of the new trucks, you will find that it is better than any caravan or car that you have ever been in. The cabins are air cooled and have microwaves and so on, but they still cannot make up for the fact that we have inadequate services for drivers, especially women, on the roads. Political meat really needs to be put behind that, to be honest.

Ms Dolan: Thank you. I am glad to hear that steps are being taken to address that. COVID has shone a light on how vital haulage drivers are, so thank you for that.

Mr McGuigan: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate all the information that you have provided to us. It has been a long and interesting evidence session. I certainly have sympathy for any individual or business that has suffered as a result of Brexit. How could you not? I understand that, as business people, you do not want to come here and get caught up in politics, but I must respond to Keith's commentary about the DUP listening. All that we are talking about today is not just a result of Brexit; it is a result of the hard Brexit that was forced by the TUV's Jim Allister and the DUP on the people of the North, who did not support any kind of Brexit. That is the reality of it. The protocol, whether we like it or not, is there to protect in some ways against the biggest excesses of that. I understand, and I do not dispute —

Mr Allister: Poor Philip.

Mr McGuigan: — that people have been caught up in the crossfire. That point had to be made.

On mutual —

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Philip, do you have a question, rather than a party political broadcast? We are all making them today because of the particular time of the year, but have you a question?

Mr McGuigan: You interrupted me when I got to it.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Go ahead, Philip.

Mr McGuigan: Mutual enforcement has been raised a few times today. From how I look at it, and from the sources that I have read, it has already been thrown out as completely unworkable. It does not work, and it is not used anywhere else. I do not think that the EU could trust the British, given the way that the British Government have behaved throughout this whole process. How could you trust the British to carry out such an agreement? I just do not see how mutual enforcement is workable. The Committee's next witnesses are from the Ulster Farmers' Union, and I was going to ask them about their position on a comprehensive and bespoke SPS agreement between the EU and the British. I would not mind hearing your views on that solution.

Also, my party and I have heard reports from some cross-border haulage companies that could soon lose their rights to operate in the South of Ireland because they have designated transport managers who reside in the North. Have you experienced that problem, or do you know of others who have experienced it? Maybe you will elaborate on that.

Mr Summerton: Philip, I will take your first question, which was on mutual enforcement. You say that it does not work anywhere, but it does. At the minute, a lorryload of, say, chicken from the Middle East can enter the EU via the port of Rotterdam. It can be checked by the EU at Rotterdam, enter the EU market, move across into Ireland to a distributor, move to a distributor in Northern Ireland and then from Northern Ireland across to GB unfettered.

The UK is trusting the EU to mutually enforce its SPS regulations to do that. There are no further checks on that product as it moves through Northern Ireland and on to GB. That happens day in, day out. There are models where mutual enforcement can clearly be seen to work. Unfortunately, the same piece of chicken cannot move back from GB to a restaurant in Northern Ireland without a health cert, but it can move from Rotterdam through the EU and through Northern Ireland to GB. To a degree, the UK Government, in postponing the SPS checks further, are relying on a mutual enforcement standard with the EU.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): And the second question, Peter?

Mr Martin: I can come in on the second question about transport managers. Yes, you are right that a transport manager who resides in Northern Ireland will have a UK transport manger certificate of professional competence (CPC). If he did not exchange that CPC prior to 31 December, he has to resit the exam in Southern Ireland. In addition, if he lives in Newry and is working for a company in Dundalk, that is not acceptable; he has to live in the jurisdiction as well. There is a serious issue there. I wrote to the Southern Irish Government about that and got a response back late last week, which I still have to consider. From my initial reading of it, they are saying that there can be no movement on the matter because they are just applying EU rules. That has caused significant difficulties, particularly for people around the border areas and anybody who feels they are Irish and have an Irish passport, but that does not cut it with the Southern Irish Government.

Mr McGuigan: On that last point, is that something that the EU could show a bit of flexibility on? Would that solve the problem?

Mr Martin: Yes, it would, particularly on the island of Ireland. A number of people have contacted me because they are in that circumstance: they live around Newry and are a transport manager for a Southern Irish company. The authorities in the South are saying that they must reside in the South even if they exchanged their CPC prior to the end of December. The Southern Irish Government appear to be saying that it is an EU rule and that they have no flexibility. I am quite happy to pick that point up with you after this meeting if you so wish.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Are you happy, Philip?

Mr McGuigan: Yes. Nobody commented, with support or otherwise, on the suggestion of a comprehensive SPS agreement and how that might help to assist with some of the problems that have been discussed here today.

Mr Tait: That is probably a question for Peter, but from Geoff's and my perspective, we do not deal in SPS, so if there is an SPS agreement, it will not help us in any shape or form.

The Chairperson (Dr Aiken): Thank you very much indeed, John, Mark, Geoff and Peter for your evidence. Just before we finish, I have a final question, Mark. I was reading your written evidence. Paragraph 4 is headed:


Reading that evidence has really brought home to me what the situation is like. I will read your words:

"I can speak for every one of my staff as well as myself to say that we are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I have never worked under such pressure and stress like it ever before."

That is the most fitting piece of testimony I have heard on the Committee, and for that I thank you. It is worth our making sure that everybody is aware of the stresses and strains that the road haulage industry, particularly you, are under. From me and from the Committee, thank you all very much for your evidence. That is a very powerful piece of testimony. Thank you very much and be safe, all of you.

Mr Martin: Thank you.

Mr Potter: Thank you.

Mr Tait: Thank you.

Mr Summerton: Thank you.

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