Brexit plans lead to reverse in civil servant cuts in key departments

Brexit plans lead to reverse in civil servant cuts in key departments

   March 13, 2018  
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Brexit plans lead to reverse in civil servant cuts in key departments

Thousands of extra civil servants are being employed to cope with the challenges posed by Brexit.

New research carried out by the independent Institute for Government (IFG) think tank suggests that in some key departments, six years of austerity cuts have been reversed in less than two years since the Brexit referendum took place. The cost of getting the civil service ready for Brexit runs into billions of pounds.

Brexit was always going to mean a massive workload for the civil service - not only in negotiating the UK's departure, but also in setting up new systems that will run independently of the EU in the future.

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Now we're beginning to see what that means in practice.

Two new departments have been created since the referendum - the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) and the Department for International Trade (DIT). Between them they have about 1,500 staff devoted exclusively to Brexit.

Coalition government

Some of them have transferred from elsewhere in the civil service - but that means other jobs have to be filled or other work isn't being done.

At the time of the EU referendum, after years of austerity, the civil service was at its smallest since World War Two - and 20% smaller than it was when the coalition government took office in 2010.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2010 there were 527,500 civil servants. By 2016 that number had fallen to 418,300.

But in key departments dealing with Brexit, those staff reductions have largely been reversed.

The numbers are most striking in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - the IFG says its headcount has increased by 65% since the referendum.

By the end of this month Defra is due to have taken on an extra 1,200 people working directly on Brexit, as it seeks to replace the EU's Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies.

Now comparisons are not exact, but let's look at the European Commission in Brussels. It employs 1,657 staff in three departments dealing with agriculture, fisheries and the environment - but that's for all 28 countries including the UK.

Elsewhere in the UK civil service, the Home Office is planning to have hired an extra 1,500 Brexit staff by September, and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) between 3,000 and 5,000 extra staff by this time next year.

Both these departments, and Defra, are seeing staffing levels return to pre-2010 levels.

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Institute for Government, Carlton Gardens, London, UK
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