Your overview of political and economic news with a focus on the food and consumer goods industry, featuring the latest developments and guidance on COVID-19 and adapting to a new relationship with the EU.
COVID-19 home testing for workers
The government is expected to introduce home testing in the next few weeks. It will be made available for employees of businesses where it is not practically possible to establish testing facilities and for those who do not have a regular place of work.
Defra continues to urge food businesses to take up the offer of government funded lateral flow technology testing (LFT/LFD) to test asymptomatic workers for businesses with 50 or more employees in England. Government funding for these tests is currently due to expire after 31 March 2021. Discussions are ongoing about the funding of the tests after this date.
Those interested in taking part can register here.
Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are encouraged to contact their local authority to explore the possibility of using community testing facilities.
The First Minister of Scotland recently announced plans for the introduction of workforce testing within the food processing and distribution sectors.
Absence rates due to COVID-19 are reported to be declining and are around 5%, compared to more than 10% in January, as the national lockdowns have led to a reduced number of COVID-19 cases.
The government has announced that from 15 February, there will be new quarantine arrangements for all arrivals at English ports. These include:
- All arrivals to take mandated COVID-19 tests on day 2 and day 8 of quarantine
- Those who have been to a ‘red list’ country required to purchase ‘quarantine package’ covering hotel and testing
The First Minister in Scotland has also announced new quarantine arrangements. The key difference is that the requirement to stay in quarantine hotels is extended to all arrivals to Scotland from outside the Common Travel Area.
Defra Food Wholesale Sector Survey
The latest Defra wholesale sector survey is open until 23:59 Sunday 14 February. The survey provides businesses with an opportunity to share with government how they will prepare for the re-opening of the hospitality and leisure sectors, when it is safe to do so.
Customs agents capacity
The capacity of customs agents continues to cause concern. This lack of capacity and in some cases access to out of hours support is the most significant cause of delays at Calais, due to unvalidated documentation. For those travelling with the correct, validated documentation the port is said to be flowing well.
Defra is looking at how to build capacity and ensure that, where possible, interpretation of the requirements does not place unnecessary demands on customs agents.
Support being considered includes potential funding for training, additional technical guidance, and the provision of customs agents at ports to triage issues.
EU-UK discussions – Northern Ireland Protocol
The government and the European Commission are reported to have held ‘frank but constructive’ talks relating to the working of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has called for grace periods to be extended for Northern Ireland, to allow businesses more time to adapt to new Irish Sea border processes.
It is understood that a virtual meeting will be held with Northern Ireland business leaders next week, before further discussions on 24 February.
Businesses are advised to continue to prepare for the end of the grace period on 1 April (see key dates section for more details).
SME Brexit Support Fund
The government has announced a £20m SME Brexit Support Fund to help small businesses with changes to trade rules with the EU. Traders will be able to apply for a grant of up to £2,000 to pay for practical support for importing and exporting.
Key dates for UK-EU transition and support for businesses
Businesses trading with the EU should be prepared for the introduction of further border controls for the following key dates:
- 22 February – the introduction of consignment level certification for prohibited and restricted fresh meat, minced meat and meat preparations (P&Rs) exported to Northern Ireland.
- 1 April – End of the grace period for supermarkets and their suppliers moving goods into Northern Ireland. All products of animal origin (POAO) exported to Northern Ireland will require Export Health Certificates.
- 1 April – Products of animal origin and all regulated plants and plant products will require pre-notification and health documentation to be imported into the UK. There may also by physical checks, conducted at the final destination.
- 30 June – The grace period for sending certain P&R goods from GB to NI ends.
- 1 July – Products of animal origin and all regulated plants and plant products will be subject to physical checks at Border Control Posts in the UK. The regime of border checks will become more rigorous.
Complete customs declarations for imports to the UK will be required. Importers may no longer defer making declarations.
The government is encouraging businesses to reach out to all their European suppliers to ensure they are prepared for import requirements from 1 April.
The UK government has issued guidance specifically for food and drink businesses.
Register here for upcoming webinars on trading with the EU.
Register here for Defra webinars on Importing Products of Animal Origin (POAO) from the European Union into Great Britain.
IGD has also provided additional support to help businesses with EU Exit. Businesses may also wish to refer to the EU EXIT Foodhub, an FAQ website for food and drink businesses