The transition period ends on 31 December 2020, and by 1 January 2021, any public sector contracting authority will need to use the Find a Tender e-notification service to publish tenders.
The government guidance said that the new notification service will not go live until the transition period has ended, and will replace the “requirement to publish notices in the Official Journal of the European Union”.
If a public sector authority uses a third-party “eSender” to manage its procurement notices, it will be able to continue using it if it have been approved to publish notices to Find a Tender. So far, 12 eSenders have completed the work needed to be able to publish notices on the new service.
Businesses will be able to use the service to find tenders, but can also use existing portals, such as the government’s Contract Finder, Public Contracts Scotland, eTendersNI, MOD Defence Contracts Online and Sell2Wales.
The government says it is working hard to ensure the UK is ready by the end of the transition period. However, a National Audit Office (NAO) report published earlier this month, warned that “widespread disruption” is likely when the Brexit transition period ends.
The report, assessing preparations at the border, said that although the government had undertaken a significant amount of work on systems and infrastructure, the Covid-19 pandemic had “exacerbated delays in government preparations and significant risks remain”.
It said the government is aware that there will be disruption and is putting plans in place to monitor issues, but there is still a “risk that widespread disruption could ensue”.
Giving evidence to the House of Lords EU Goods Sub-Committee on 10 November, industry experts warned that the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which will be used on the Ireland/Northern Ireland border from 1 January 2021, is not ready, and its functionality remains “unproven”.
CDS is the replacement for the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) system. Originally, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was due to turn off Chief by March 2020, but the department now plans to run it as part of a dual approach, whereby traders use Chief for customs declarations relating to imports in Great Britain, while CDS will be used for those relating to Northern Ireland until CDS has been scaled to be able to handle the increased volumes of declarations.
But industry experts have warned that the system is far from ready. Giving evidence to the House of Lords EU Goods Sub-Committee, Des Hiscock, regional CEO at Customs Support and director general of the UK Association for International Trade, said the readiness of CDS to be used at the Irish border was causing concern in industry.
“This system is not ready and is unproven,” he said. “The system has been dramatically descaled from what was initially promised and is not going to deliver what is needed to effectively manage UK borders.”
Hiscock added that as of Friday 6 November, there were problems in simply communicating with the system. “With 52 days to go, this is simply unacceptable,” he said. “This is our biggest issue from a systems perspective.”
However, Sue Roberts, head of customs transformation at HMRC, repeatedly told the committee that all key IT systems delivered by HMRC were “on track”, including CDS.