Tech projects see departments ramp up Brexit staff

There are more than 16,000 civil servants working on Brexit, with departments with the biggest technology workloads dedicating the most employees

Credit: PA

More than 16,000 civil servants are working to prepare the UK for its imminent departure from the EU, civil service chiefs have revealed, with departments tasked with delivering the biggest technology projects dedicated the most staff to Brexit activities.

As of the end of February, the civil service had filled 16,188 “EU exit posts” through a mixture of recruitment and redeployment from other areas of government, according to cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief executive John Manzoni.

Sedwill and Manzoni shared the statistics in a letter to parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, amid ongoing uncertainty about the form Brexit will take. If parliament fails to agree a withdrawal agreement or an extension to the process in the coming days, the UK will leave the EU without a deal on 12 April.

They said that the vast majority of civil servants in Brexit roles – 14,297 – were spread across just six departments: the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for International Trade; HM Revenue and Customs; and the Home Office.

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The rest were split between the Cabinet Office, the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Department for Transport, the Department for Health and Social Care, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The number included 5,833 civil servants working in Brexit-focused “priority roles”, who were recruited through the Government Recruitment Service’s special EU exit priority recruitment service, they said.

The Home Office had the largest share of these priority roles – 1,559 – while HMRC had 1,278. Defra had 1,255 officials in priority Brexit posts, while BEIS had 1,009, DIT 393 and DCMS 339.

The Home Office faces a huge Brexit-related digital and IT workload, including delivering digital systems at the UK border, and implementing the scheme for EU citizens to apply for settled status. HM Revenue and Customs, meanwhile, has faced the task of implementing the new customs declaration service. 

With a total of 43 ongoing Brexit-related projects – 20 of which have an IT element – Defra has perhaps the biggest workload of any civil service department.

GRS had supported departments with 2,965 recruitment campaigns to fill these priority roles, the figures showed. The majority of the roles – 5,709 – were policy focused, while 1,384 were project delivery posts.

Recruitment data for other departments was not held centrally, Sedwill and Manzoni said.

The two leaders were responding to a request from PACAC for a breakdown of the number of civil servants to have been recruited or seconded from other departments to work on Brexit.

In December, Manzoni told the committee the civil service was having to accelerate recruitment to prepare for the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

“We can’t hire those people fast enough, so we have to start really redistributing even more resources. We have redistributed a lot of resources already, but even more resources are necessary,” he said.

This is the first time some departments’ recruitment figures have been made public. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said earlier this year that it was “not possible” to answer a direct question about how many Home Office staff were working on no-deal Brexit preparations.

“This is because staff are generally engaged across a range of workstreams, which will include business as usual activity as well as Brexit preparations, across both deal and no deal scenarios,” she said.

Sam Trendall

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