The meat industry is calling on the government to end delays in crossing the Channel

The UK meat industry has urged the government to speed up exports of perishable goods after lorries carrying fresh produce had to wait up to two days to cross the English Channel due to congestion at the Port of Dover.

The delays were caused by the cancellation of trips by P&O Ferries, inclement weather, increased tourist traffic and the failure of an IT customs system.

P&O suspended all ferry services last month after summarily laying off nearly 800 employees. The embattled company said on Wednesday it “expects” to resume running two ferries this week, subject to safety inspections by UK regulators.

The delays at Britain’s busiest port are the latest in a string of disturbances Freight transport between the UK and EU which hauliers say is damaging the competitiveness and reputation of UK industry.

The British Meat Processors Association said members transporting fresh meat were “stranded” for a day or two and the disruption is expected to continue into this week before the Easter Bank Holiday.

“In our just-in-time food supply chain, this type of supply disruption means we are losing EU customers who are turning to other countries for a more reliable product supply,” said Nick Allen, BMPA Chief Executive.

“We need the authorities to urgently review the situation and take appropriate action to keep the flow of perishable food moving,” Allen added.

The UK Government’s Goods Vehicle Movement Service, which allows businesses to transport goods into or out of the UK to file customs forms electronically, suffered outages last week. This made export difficult, especially for fresh produce.

HM Revenue & Customs said on Friday the issues had been resolved but that the contingency measures would remain in place until midday Monday when the GVMS system will be fully restored.

GVMS has been down for around 10 days and has also caused problems for companies sending goods to the UK, according to a customs agent.

GVMS is one of several IT systems vital to import and export that have been struggling under the burden of processing requirements since the UK left the EU, the agent said, adding that shippers are “skeptical ‘ were that the announced fixes would solve all the problems.

Rod McKenzie, spokesman for the UK Road Haulage Association, said it was vital to the UK economy that the Port of Dover was functioning well.

“It is in the interests of the UK economy for this border to work as effectively as possible,” he said. “We all depend on a functioning border.”

Although P&O hopes to resume sailings this week, one of the vessels earmarked for the Channel routes has been seized by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency following crew familiarization and training inspections.

Rival ferry company DFDS had stepped in to carry passengers and freight booked with P&O, but all DFDS services were fully booked that weekend.

A DfT spokesman said: “P&O’s unacceptable actions have resulted in its vessels being grounded, causing backlogs and congestion that would be significantly reduced if its fleet operated normally. It is left to the operators, local authorities and of course the government to clean up the mess.

“In addition to bad weather and Easter stress, this has led to the roads being extremely busy.”

Additional reporting by Philip Georgiadis The meat industry is calling on the government to end delays in crossing the Channel

Adam Bradshaw

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