Lean civil service bulks up for Brexit

Barely a civil service department will be untouched by the push to attract the best and brightest to the government’s EU exit team, Chief-Exec.com has been told.

Now it was essential that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, provided the resources – especially the funds and time to re-skill staff – to prevent a “brain drain” across other departments, the general secretary of the FDA, Dave Penman said on Tuesday.

The union, which represents 18,000 senior civil servants, said 300-400 staff were expected to be seconded to David Davis’ Department for Exiting the European Union. It was unsure what the final numbers would be for Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade, which would be a permanent department staffed by permanent civil servants.

“So far talks have been constructive,” Mr Penman said.

“We’ve been talking to the Cabinet Office and the two new departments, but barely a department has been untouched. It isn’t just the new departments that are going to be caught up in exiting the EU. In departments responsible for areas such as the environment, agriculture, manufacturing, civil servants are going to be taken away from their usual work to work on this too.

“A lot of senior civil servants are going to spend a lot of time working on the consequences of exiting the EU over the next 10 years.”

According to the Office of National Statistics there are 392,500 full-time civil servants.

Mr Penman said the civil service had been cut by 20 per cent in the last parliament and was to be cut by another 20 per cent in this parliament.

“Even if the government decides it’s not going to give the civil service another penny, it has to consider how the money is going to be redistributed as the last spending round was determined before we knew we were exiting the EU.”

Mr Penman said it was difficult to talk to the government about resources. But 150,000 civil service jobs had been lost over the past decade and that impacted on the skills available.

“The main concern we have is resources,” he said. “Not a word has been said about that – how civil servants are expected to cope with huge additions to their workload.”

Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, said on Friday that putting into effect the decision to leave the European Union had been called the biggest and most complex challenge that government and the civil service had faced for generations.

“The civil service has been quick to respond. In establishing these two new departments we have demonstrated, once again, our ability to react at pace, flexibly and effectively to new and, in this case, unprecedented circumstances.

“Central to the success of this work to date has been the collaboration across Whitehall to identify innovative solutions to the issues we face.”

Two weeks earlier Sir Jeremy told Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee that the civil service was mobilising very quickly.

“We have created two new departments from a standing start. I think we are at about 80 per cent fully staffed up in terms of the senior teams of those things.

“We have created about 60 or 65 senior jobs, and virtually all of those are filled. We are moving forward very rapidly organisationally and in terms of doing the analysis. These are complicated issues that have not been analysed for a very long time, but I am very happy with the work we are doing. I am very proud of the way the civil service has risen to this challenge.”

Answering questions from the committee’s chair, Bernard Jenkin, on the use of outside consultants, Sir Jeremy said: “… We definitely have made ourselves open to consultancies, accountancy firms, project management specialists and, of course, lots of individuals, and we have collected together the CVs and enquiries from many, many hundreds of people now. The challenge is to know when is the best time to deploy the right external expertise”.

“We have so many people that want to work in these departments that we need to make sure that all the other important policy priorities of the new Prime Minister can be properly staffed,” Sir Jeremy said.

“Anyway, this is a nice problem to have compared to other problems we might have had.”

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said it did not comment on internal vacancies.

By Aban Contractor