UK Politics

Brexit: Civil service 'needs more staff'

Whitehall sign Image copyright PA

The government has been warned that the civil service has failed to recruit enough extra staff to deal with Britain leaving the European Union.

The National Audit Office said that there were still hundreds of posts to be filled, days before Brexit negotiations are scheduled to begin.

Prime Minister Theresa May is due trigger Article 50 on Wednesday.

The head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, said it was "well placed" to deal with challenges ahead.

In its report, the NAO, which scrutinises government spending, said Brexit would "further increase the capability challenges" facing a civil service already struggling to cope with major projects. It said the government must show "greater urgency" in filling skills gaps in Whitehall.

'Not confident'

Its report said a third of the 1,000 roles created in the new Department for Exiting the EU and the Department for International Trade had yet to be filled as of February.

And the posts that had been filled were done so "mostly by transferring staff from elsewhere in government".

The spending watchdog said many of the specialist skills needed for the negotiations were in short supply and departments were competing against each other to recruit the right staff.

National Audit Office chief Amyas Morse said the government must prioritise its activities and be ready to stop work on projects "it is not confident it has the capability to deliver".

He said: "The civil service is facing ever-increasing challenges.

"The work of government is becoming more technical, continuing budgetary restraint is putting pressure on departments and the decision to leave the EU means government will have to develop new skills and take on work previously done by others.

"Government has gaps in its capability and knows it must do more to develop the skills it needs. It is making plans to do so but the scale of the challenge ahead means greater urgency is needed."

Rob O'Neill, of the senior public servants' union the FDA, said the report was "a wake-up call for ministers".

"Departments are being asked to take on more and more work even as staff numbers fall while ongoing pay restraint chips away at their ability to recruit and retain the brightest and best."

But the head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, said the organisation could cope with Brexit and the government's other priorities.

"We are focused on delivering this government's commitment to leave the EU and get the very best deal for the UK.

"We are equipping ourselves with the right people and the right skills across government to make this happen," he said.

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