The UK government will spend £16m training British firms for new customs checks after a no-deal Brexit, but firms may not all receive the cash until after Britain leaves the EU.
Chancellor Sajid Javid announced the extra cash on top of an £8m package spent on training more than 3,000 customs agents earlier this year, and a £344m boost for border and customs work.
Many British firms which import or export from the EU are likely to face additional bureaucracy if Britain crashes out without a deal, amid fears many are still not prepared for the upheaval.
Britain will no longer be entitled to continue its current frictionless trade with most European countries, meaning firms will have to write customs declarations detailing what they are trading with EU partners, and could face tariffs.
Firms can apply for funds to cover the costs of training staff in completing the new paperwork and requirements to keep trading with the EU after Brexit.
Treasury minister Jesse Norman urged all firms to “make the necessary preparations to be fully ready,” saying thousands more customs experts were on hand to help firms “on and after Brexit day.”
But analysis of the £16m training scheme by Yahoo Finance UK suggests many companies may not receive the actual cash until after Britain has already left and customs rules change on 31 October.
Companies will be able to start planning training sessions immediately or seek funds for any training since 31 July and apply retrospectively, but the funds will not be guaranteed or released until a later date.
The small print on the application website says firms can expect to find out if they have been successful “within two to three weeks” of applying for funds.
It adds that firms will then receive grants within 30 days of their claim being accepted.
These timescales suggest only companies which are able to source a quote for training and submit their applications by next Tuesday can be confident of receiving their actual funding before Britain’s scheduled departure date.
The two- to three-week wait for a decision is also only what the scheme’s administrators “expect” rather than guaranteed, as the processing times “will vary depending on demand.”
Evidence indicates many firms are not likely to apply so speedily for funds. The government and lobby groups have repeatedly warned firms have not acted quickly or effectively enough to step up no-deal Brexit planning, but companies blame other pressures and enormous uncertainty for inaction.
The government even took matters into its own hands last month by announcing it would auto-enrol some UK firms which trade with the EU for a new registration scheme, giving up on hopes firms would do it themselves.
Tens of thousands of firms who needed to apply for the scheme to keep trading as normal immediately after Brexit had failed to do so, even after Britain’s last planned exit date on 29 March.