Border Force Heathrow - FPT consultation
Border Force urges users of their Heathrow Freight Processing Team ((FPT) Counter Team), especially BIFA Members, to respond to their Outward Command streamlining consultation.
The Freight Processing Team (FPT (Counter Team)) forms part of the Outdoors Command of Border Force Heathrow, based within Custom House, Heathrow Airport. In late 2015, a review was commissioned for demand-led activities within the support functions of the Outdoors Command to be streamlined and appropriately and efficiently resourced in order to meet financial savings expected within the financial years 2015/16 and 12016/17. The expected outcome of this review for FPT is that Border Force will have a team operating the most effective front desk service in line with what is affordable for our business.
FPT is an office based team providing a front desk service both to the trade and public individuals in respect of import and export freight goods. Work carried out is of an HMRC nature, however resources to deliver this work are provided by UKBF. The team currently operates a 24/7 operation however it has been evident for some time that due to staffing levels, the current structure of the team is no longer tenable. As a business, we regularly have to close the public counter both during the day time and over night, thus not delivering the service advertised to the trade, and resulting in a number of complaints.
The scope of this exercise was to review staffing levels required to undertake all of the work areas currently assigned to FPT, to review the work areas currently undertaken by the team and to review the rosters required to provide the most effective service levels both to the trade and to Border Force and thus ensure Border Force has a team operating the most effective front desk service in line with what is affordable.
- If we continue with FPT in its current format we will not deliver the service expected
- Reputational damage and complaints as a result of not providing an effective service
- We will not achieve the financial savings expected of us
Consultation – who have we spoken to?
- BIFA – Colin Young
- BIFA – Robert Windsor
- BIFA – West London Members
- Heathrow Members Group
- The Air Policy Group
- Border Force Strategy and Policy Group
The review process begun in late 2015 when Border Force Heathrow commissioned a review of the work carried out within the support areas of the Outdoors Command. A study of work carried out by our Continuous Improvement Team in the FPT (counter team) showed
- Export work to be the largest proportion of entries we deal with
- Import entries follow closely behind
- The majority of our work is seen between 0600 - 2100
- Work undertaken outside of those hours is minimal, indeed the study showed as little as 4 – 5 pieces of work were routinely received during night hours.
- Counter and telephone work is minimal from 12.00 am midnight until 6am
- Email work is minimal over the entire 24 hour period.
The above findings were then used to form the basis of our review of staffing levels and roster cover to ensure we delivered the service required, while ensuring we still delivered our business.
Staffing: Staffing numbers (currently 16) have been diminishing for some months and with financial restrictions placed upon Border Force, and the expectation that we will make savings in the current year and in 2016/17, there is no likely hood that the Counter Team will receive any new staff any time soon. As part of this process, HMRC were asked to provide additional staffing to boost the team to previous levels and thus allow us to retain the current structure, however they declined to do so , therefore, Border Force will need to consolidate our remaining resources. The trade were also asked if they would consider paying for staffing over night hours however there seemed to be little appetite for this.
Rosters: Our current rosters provide, in theory, a 24/7 service to the trade, with staff always on duty to deal with any work presented to the team. The counter is open daily until midnight when it closes, opening again at 0500 hours, however we operate a drop box system with staff on site through the night to deal with any urgent entries or work. Staffing levels no longer provide sufficient resources to populate the current roster and thus this needs to be amended to operate the most effective front desk service in line with what is affordable for our business. Initial proposals were that we can achieve this by ceasing to offer the night service, instead operating an 0700 - 2200 weekday service and reduced weekend service between 0700 – 1830 Saturdays and 0700 – 1630 Sundays. However we have listened to the feedback from the trade and while it is still not proposed to offer a night service, we are now proposing an 0600 – 2230 weekday and an 0600- 18:30 weekend service.
The trade: Border Force first notified BIFA about our proposed changes at the BIFA meeting on 19th November 2015 where we advised that BF were having to make financial savings which required a reassessment of our business, and were advised we were reviewing the counter service, considering removing the night service and reducing weekend availability. The result of this would be a rebalancing of resources to peak trade times and therefore a better provision of service by BF during these times. The meeting was asked to consider any issues/concerns and feed back to Border Force.
Border Force further met with Colin Young on 7th December where we discussed in detail our proposals. He advised that he had written to the BIFA group, to the Heathrow Members Group and The Air Policy Group. We agreed that he would write again to these groups. Any concerns raised would be passed to Border Force to address. Border Force identified a list of over 120 traders who used our services, and from those, provided BIFA with a list of 30 regular users. Of these, 28 were BIFA members. In addition there are 13 NCTS users, of which 11 were BIFA members. On 11th December Colin wrote to the above groups, and to the West London BIFA members. In total, nearly 500 traders have now been consulted.
Following this, Border Force received just seven queries. Two of these concerned NCTS movements during night hours, for which Border Force have advised we will use the current fall back process, a process that the trade are already familiar with and thus had no issue. The remaining five came from companies who trade in high value goods. On 8th February, Border Force met with these companies to agree a mutually acceptable “express” process that would facilitate their trade, without disadvantaging the remainder of the traders who use our services. BF have further advised that should other traders wish to register to use these processes then we will of course be happy to discuss with them.
A meeting with Colin Young and Robert Windsor also on 8th February confirmed BIFA’s awareness of the impending changes and their willingness to work with Border Force to achieve a positive outcome for all concerned, which includes protecting their Members interests.
The Border Force Strategy and Policy group: Border Force consulted its own policy group regarding our responsibilities towards the FPT work and any expectations placed upon us in undertaking this. They advised there is no contract with HMRC, nor any high level agreement regarding this work. The Customs and International Trade Protocol gave no expectations and there is nothing documented formally which ties Heathrow to provide the services we currently do for any set period. Their view was that Heathrow currently provides over and above the national standard by providing a night service and it is for the local business to manage this work as it deems appropriate.
Engagement with Customs Directorate HMRC: HMRC requested we undertake a Risk Impact Assessment and full written consultation with the trade. However The Border Force Strategy and Policy Group advised that a Risk Impact Assessment needed to be proportionate. To date written consultation undertaken with the trade through BIFA, with Colin Young and with Robert Windsor (nearly 500 traders) has resulted in just seven responses to this, and given this low number, Border Force Strategy and Policy Group advised that a Risk Impact Assessment was not considered proportionate for the exercise being undertaken and thus was not required. HMRC have not disputed this. What Border Force did ask was whether or not HMRC would be prepared to assist by providing staff to backfill the Border Force shortfall, however they have declined this request.
Comparison to other airport operations: We looked at freight operations at other UK airports to understand their trade and service offered. Gatwick reported their core business hours to be Monday to Friday 0900 – 1500 with anything outside of these hours being dealt with by Officers in their Service Teams in the North Terminal. Gatwick have just two permanent Officer grade staff undertaking this work and this structure has been in place since 2006. Manchester advised that their counter service is open Monday – Friday 0800 – 2200, and Sat – Sun 0800 – 1630 and Birmingham operations are Monday – Friday only service. They do not have the staff to provide a counter service outside of these hours.
Consultation has been ongoing since December of last year and will now run until the end of March 2016. Should you wish to raise any matters with Border Force, or indeed should you wish to register your company to use our express processes then we will of course be happy to discuss these matters with you. Please address your correspondence to:
Border Force Heathrow