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Freight misses flights as computer crashes

Several long haul flights departed the UK without any cargo on board on the weekend of 27/28 August because of a collapse in HM Revenue & Customs ‘Chief’ computer system. Agency Sector Management chairman Peter MacSwiney said that at least eight transatlantic flights had been forced to depart without any freight because Chief was unable to process export clearances in time. He said: “We understand that Chief developed a fault that weekend, and although everything was switched to the back-up computer, the communications failed to work in time for the consignments to be cleared in time for the flights.” The service went down at about 15.30 on

Friday 27 August and CNS service to CHIEF was not fully restored until about 13.30 on 28 August and to CCS at 18.00 the same day. Peter MacSwiney, who was also chairman of SITPRO’s Ports and Borders Group before the trade body was wound up by the Government, said that the episode demonstrated the fragility of back-up arrangements for Chief, which was switched from long-term service provider BT to Cap Gemini at the beginning of the year. By an unfortunate coincidence, the Chief breakdown occurred virtually simultaneously with HMRC’s publication of a press release sating that the switch-over of Chief from BT to Cap Gemini had gone very smoothly. While that was true insofar as the switch-over went, downtime, both scheduled and unscheduled had been much higher since the start of the year, he said, pointing out also that the Government’s inland revenue department had a history of taking systems

down for maintenance for much longer than HM Customs had when it was still an independent department. “In all the time that BT was running Chief, there were only a couple of scheduled downtimes for less than an hour each. We’ve had more downtime than that since the beginning of the year.” Peter MacSwiney added: “We feel that

there could be a bit more effort on customs’ behalf to keep freight moving under these circumstances. If flights go out without freight on them that doesn’t do anything for UK plc and business will be switched to European hubs.” The episode did not bode well for the

move to the new version of Chief, Chief STE (Strategic Technical Enhancements) in 2012. The trade has already complained that the timescale is too short and while it is understood that the start date has now In this issue...

been delayed from January 2012 to Spring 2012 (see the IT section, page 23) many feel this is still far too risky considering Chief’s critical importance to the UK economy. Peter MacSwiney said: “Bear in mind that 2012 will be Olympics year. Think of the bad publicity if a star athlete’s equipment is held up because of a customs breakdown.” Peter MacSwiney also questioned the

wisdom of ditching tried and tested Edifact standards in favour of XML, given the latter’s untried nature and much greater capacity requirements. “Not all EU member states are moving to XML – Germany for instance has just produced new message standards in Edifact. Do we really want Chief to be a guinea pig for XML?” The new Chief software is also being developed offshore, the first time it has ever been done with a system of such critical importance, he said.

Midlands hub for Geodis

Geodis Calberson, the UK division of global logistics group Geodis, is opening a new Midlands hub in West Bromwich, near Birmingham. The 20,000 sq ft facility will also serve as a depot for subsidiary company Fortec Pallet Distribution Network. Regional commercial manager Bruce McLellan said the opening was part of a plan to expand the network across the UK.

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Chinese go for Manchester


Crossword Freight Break

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