The British Retail Consortium has said the government’s pledge of £16m to help businesses – including retailers which export to the EU – train staff to make customs declarations is “too little, too late”.

The funds are being made available by HM Revenue & Customs, through PwC. Grants of up to £2,250 will go to businesses for staff training on filling in customs declarations after the Brexit deadline on October 31, to ensure that trading with the EU continues “as smoothly as possible”.

Businesses can also apply for grants for IT improvements to help “complete customs declarations more efficiently”.

Financial secretary to the treasury Jesse Norman said: “Brexit takes place on October 31 and we urge all businesses to make the necessary preparations to be fully ready. The government has doubled the support available, so that thousands more customs experts are on hand to help businesses after Brexit day.”

HMRC said this was a second round of funding, following the £8m it made available for the same purpose on August 12.

However, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, Andrew Opie, said the money was “too little, too late” if the government was still set on leaving the EU on October 31.

“There is a huge problem with a lack of customs agents, who will be key to helping retailers manage their supply chains when we leave the EU. While more money to boost their numbers is welcome, it is probably too little too late to make a difference in the event of a no-deal Brexit on October 31.”

Food shortage

The announcement comes the day after the BRC criticised Michael Gove, the man responsible for planning for a no-deal Brexit, after his appearance over the weekend on the BBC.

A BRC spokesperson refuted Gove’s claims that everyone in the UK would have “all the food they need” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“It is categorically untrue that the supply of fresh food will be unaffected under a no-deal Brexit. The retail industry has been crystal clear in its communications with the government over the past 36 months that the availability of fresh foods will be impacted as a result of checks and delays at the border.

“Indeed, the government’s own assessments showed that the flow of goods through the Channel crossings could be reduced by 40-60% from day one, as would the ‘availability and choice’ of some foods.

“The BRC’s own assessment has shown that soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes and lettuces, would likely see reduced availability as they are largely imported during the winter months.

“While retailers continue to work with their suppliers to maintain stocks of non-perishable goods and plan ahead for any disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit, it is impossible to mitigate it fully as neither retailers nor consumers can stockpile fresh foods.

“The reality remains that a no-deal Brexit in October would present the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there. Retailers will be preparing for Christmas, stretching already limited warehousing capacity, and the UK will be importing the majority of its fresh food from the EU, magnifying the impact of border delays.”