PAC slams business department’s Brexit ‘complacency’

25 Apr 18

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s has made “virtually no attempt” to re-order its priorities to implement Brexit, the public finance watchdog has warned today.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have raised “grave concerns” that BEIS has not made greater progress on preparing for Brexit, as it moves from the planning to implementation state, in a report published today.

Chair of the committee Meg Hillier said: “We have grave concerns about this apparent complacency, compounded by the lack of transparency on the department’s progress with what in some cases will be critical projects.

“Sensitivities around negotiations with the EU must not be used as an excuse to keep taxpayers and Parliament in the dark. We urge the government to provide us with a swift update on the issues raised in our report.”

The report recommended that the department look at its priorities for business as usual and re-access which programmes could be stopped, paused or slowed down, taking skills and capacity into account.

The department has recruited nearly 90% of the staff it needs to carry out its Brexit work in 2017-18, but PAC said it is concerned that the mix of staff lacks the required level of experience and expertise to deliver “a very challenging programme of work at pace”.

In a February report, the committee said the government had been too slow to allocate adequate resources to departments dealing with Brexit.

Hillier said: “The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy appears to be operating in a parallel universe where urgency is an abstract concept with no bearing on the Brexit process.

“The department is responsible for around a fifth of the work streams the government must complete as the UK leaves the EU. It is an extremely important, challenging and time-sensitive workload.

“Yet the department told us it had not re-prioritised its overall programme of work, had not begun procurement for around a dozen essential digital systems and could not provide vital information about its workforce.”

The committee also said the department should set out how the skills and experience of the staff recruited last year met its needs, identify any gaps and set out the number, skills and experience of those it needs to recruit in the coming year.

The PAC said the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the EU should carry out an urgent review of the planned processes in place, including a timeline to develop draft legislation.

The departments should report back to the committee with results of the review by the end of May.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “Along with the whole of government, BEIS is focused on getting the best deal for the UK and ensuring a smooth transition for businesses, consumers and workers. 

“Since this report was written, BEIS has received £185m of extra funding to help deliver a successful Brexit by employing an increased number of staff on our Europe work, identifying the most pressing legislative challenges and remaining ahead of schedule by recruiting high-calibre staff to ensure we prepare thoroughly and effectively.”

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