Whitehall’s Brexit task is under-resourced, says union head

21 Jun 17

The government’s redeployment of civil servants to key Brexit ministries risks overstretching Whitehall and leaving some policy areas exposed to further cuts, the FDA union has warned.

Leaked civil service memos reported in the Guardian have indicated that up to 750 policy experts maybe drafted from across central government into prominent Brexit departments. But the FDA, which represents senior public service leaders, has said this could cause serious problems for central government due to a lack of extra funding. Areas of work not related to Brexit might have to take on further cuts.

The warning comes as the government outlined its Brexit-focused legislative agenda in the Queen’s Speech today. It was not well received by public sector leaders who lamented the loss of focus on areas such as local government finance reform, devolution and social care.

Dave Penman, head of the FDA, told Public Finance that Brexit-focused departments could take in hundreds of policy professionals whose salaries and auxiliary costs may reach £100,000 per post, but will not get extra resources to pay for these staff.

“It is quite sensible to for the government to move experienced policy professionals to key departments in preparation for Brexit but the problem is that they are not resourcing that,” he said.

Penman, who has seen the leaked memos, said departments including the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office will need to find the cash to pay for extra staff from their existing budgets whilst making planned savings of 20% by 2020.

PF understands that the first memo called for an initial tranche of 100 volunteers to move to the Brexit departments at the end of May, but earlier this month a second memo emerged suggesting that figure could rise to 750 or more.

Penman said: “This is Brexit on the cheap. The chancellor had the chance to give extra resources in the Autumn Statement but only the newly formed DExEU and Department for International Trade got more cash as well as the Foreign Office.”

He added: “They need to resource Brexit or there will be further cuts. It is madness. You can bet that the EU are resourcing their side, why should we have a robbing Peter to pay Paul situation?”

PF has contacted the Cabinet Office for comment but is yet to receive a response.

However a Cabinet Office spokesperson told the Guardian that it was normal for the government to move civil servants between departments when necessary.

“The Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade were successfully set up from scratch last summer. Naturally they have been gradually increasing their staffing over this period and funding has been allocated for this.

“As you would expect, plans are in place to further increase staffing in anticipation of Brexit negotiations. These posts would be funded from the departmental budgets.”

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