DWP and HMRC staff rack up 16 years of service on average, data reveals

Departments are among government’s leaders, with some organisation posting averages of just nine months

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Transparency data detailing the average time civil servants spend working in a particular department has underscored the dizzying pace of change at some ministries.

Doubtless driven by the demands of Brexit in many cases, the newly published statistics show several departments failing to hang onto staff for more than two years.

In the case of the now-defunct Department for Exiting the European Union, the median period of employment of staff was just 0.7 years – or 36 and a half weeks – during both 2018 and 2019.

The Cabinet Office fared little better, logging average time spent in employment of 1.5 years in 2019, up from 0.7 years during the previous 12-month period.

More surprisingly, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had an average service period of 1.4 years for staff in 2019 – up from just one year in 2018. The figures, which excluded workers at the department’s executive agencies, followed a period of three years when the average time worked at Defra ranged from 11.4 to 12.5 years.

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In 2018, then environment secretary Michael Gove was accused of “raiding” Defra’s agencies to deliver foot-soldiers for the department’s Brexit preparations. 

Of Whitehall’s bigger departments, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government also notched up a relatively low time-served figure for staff, with an average of 1.8 years in 2019, down from 3.0 years in 2018 and 5.7 years in 2017. It has undergone a significant recruitment programme over the past two years. 

The Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport had an average service-time of 1.5 years, up from 1.2 years in 2018. The official statistics, published by the Cabinet Office, showed that the average time served at DCMS by staff had never been higher than 1.8 years during the last five years.

Despite its Civil Service People Survey reputation as Whitehall’s most-engaged department, service times remain consistently low at the Attorney General’s Office. The 2019 figures showed staff had worked in the department for an average of 1.4 years, the same as in 2018 and up from 1.3 years in 2017.

Newly created organisations – such as the Government Property Agency, the Scottish Fiscal Commission, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education – typically had low time-served figures.

At the other end of the scale, HM Land Registry topped the list as the government organisation where staff stay the longest on average, with 18.0 years in 2019. Nevertheless, the figure is the lowest for any one of the past five years: average service time was 26.9 years in 2016.

The Department for Work and Pensions gave a figure of 16.2 years for 2019, down from 19.6 years in 2018, while HM Revenue and Customs chalked up an average of 16.0 years in 2019, a figure that has only undergone minor fluctuations over the past five years – never more than 16.5 years or less than 15.5 years.

Companies House also emerges as a bastion of stability from the figures: its average service time for staff has increased every year since 2015, and stood at 17.6 years in 2019.

The full dataset can be seen here.


Sam Trendall

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