Fresh warning on Whitehall 'turf wars' over Brexit as Civil Service under strain

Posted On: 
26th January 2017

Whitehall is battling to cope with the Brexit workload following a 19% fall in the number of Civil Servants since 2010, a new report has said.

Civil Servants are struggling amid a mounting "to-do" list
Credit: 
PA Images

The Institute for Government (IfG) warned that “turf wars” between the three main Brexit departments have wasted “time and energy”.

Ministers are also placing extra strain on the Civil Service by refusing to reduce the number of projects that are not related to Brexit, yet still remain on the “to-do” list, including Heathrow expansion.

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The IfG found that the creation of two new Whitehall departments had led to “fragmentation, incoherence and a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities”.

The think tank’s annual Whitehall Monitor report shows that staff numbers have fallen from 475,000 in 2010 to 385,000.

While teething issues had begun to “settle down”, existing departments that have to face major challenges over Brexit have simultaneously been wrestling with deep budget cuts, the IfG said.

They cited the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is affected by a quarter of all EU laws, where staff levels have dropped by a third since 2010.

In a further example, they highlighted how the Home Office, responsible for the implementation of a new immigration system, had lost a fifth of its budget and a tenth of its staff.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an additional £412m in extra funding for the Foreign Office and the two new Brexit departments at his Autumn Statement.

But the IfG said it was “unclear whether this will be enough”, and reflected that there were “no details of extra money to help other departments”

The report added: “Drafting the great repeal bill – which aims to transpose EU law into UK law where practical – is also proving a more complex challenge than expected, which could further add to departments’ workloads.

“Departments thus face big challenges in planning for and beyond Brexit, many doing so with fewer staff and less money, while needing to carry out relatively unfamiliar tasks.” 

The IfG also hit out at the “patchy” approach to transparency in Whitehall, singling out the Home Office under Theresa May as one of the worst departments for responding to information requests.

“This isn’t exactly encouraging for those who had hoped that the new prime minister would build on the coalition’s open government initiatives,” the report noted.