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The UK Government has announced a £20 million Brexit Support Fund to help small and medium-sized businesses with changes to trade rules with the EU, including help with adjusting to new customs, rules of origin, and VAT rules.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who trade only with the EU and are therefore new to importing and exporting processes will be encouraged to apply for grants of up to £2,000 for each trader to pay for practical support including training and professional advice to ensure they can continue trading effectively with the EU.

News about the support fund will come as a relief for many mobility businesses who felt under-prepared for the new EU trading rules, with the new VAT and tariff rule changes proving to be a challenge for some exporters.

The government announcement follows extensive engagement with individual businesses, leading business organisations and trade associations from across all parts of the UK, including through the Brexit Business Taskforce.

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Chaired by Michael Gove, the weekly meetings provided an opportunity to identify challenges and find solutions to outstanding issues.

To provide SMEs with additional support, the fund will be administered through the pre-existing Customs Grant Scheme and will open for applications next month.

The scheme was set up to support businesses prepare for the new import controls coming into force from April and July.

Having taken back control of its borders, the UK Government decided to introduce new import controls in three stages up to 1 July 2021 to allow traders and hauliers time to adjust to new processes. This means businesses do not have to complete new import declarations for up to six months, unless they are moving controlled goods.

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “The Government has listened carefully to the issues raised by the business community through the Brexit Business Taskforce and that’s why we are bringing forward this financial support to help small businesses adapt to the changes to our trading relationship with the EU.

“This new targeted funding will see small businesses get more of the practical support they need to adjust to the new processes and prepare for further changes as we implement our own import controls in April and July.”

Members of the Brexit Business Taskforce have welcomed the additional support.

Mike Cherry, National Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, said that the announcement is very significant. “Small businesses, often with few cash reserves, are for the first time facing complex new customs processes, VAT requirements and rules of origin.

“While many have come to FSB for help, we have been asking for proper financial assistance of this scale, so that a cash-strapped small business can afford to buy-in expertise, training and practical support.

“The new fund will make a significant difference, and we are pleased that Ministers have really engaged with us on this, and come up with an excellent response.”

The government is also announcing that Logistics UK will be joining the Brexit Business Taskforce as standing members. It said that Logistics UK’s constructive engagement and advocacy in tackling issues relating to the end of the transition period has been vital in supporting hauliers, traders and their supply chains adjust to our new relationship with the EU.

David Wells, Chief Executive of Logistics UK, said that his organisation remains focused on securing the best possible outcome for the whole sector and the economy.

He commented: “In the last week we have seen overall freight flows between GB and the EU reach 98% when compared to the same time last year.

“There is still no disruption at ports and compliance with new rules remains high thanks to the continued efforts of hauliers and UK traders.”

In addition to this new support, the government is offering support to businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland through its Trader Support Service as well as providing numerous helplines which businesses can contact if they need further information.

This includes managing dedicated HMRC exporting telephone and online helplines. The number is 0300 322 9434 and businesses can also speak to an adviser online at tax.service.gov.uk.

The Brexit Checker Tool is available on GOV.UK to give businesses a personalised list of actions that they need to take.

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