Civil service COO details department staffing plans for next phase of Brexit

Alex Chisholm tells MPs Border Force needs 2,000 extra staff while Defra is funding training for 500 new Port Health Authority officials
Alex Chisholm appears before the Public Accounts Committee last year

By Jim Dunton

09 Mar 2021

Border Force requires another 2,000 staff to deal with a spike in workload when full customs import controls on movements of goods from the European Union to Great Britain come into effect later this year, civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm has told MPs.

Chisholm, who is also perm sec at the Cabinet Office, said HM Revenue and Customs – which is also dealing with massive Brexit-related changes to its operations – was not anticipating a significant increase in staffing when the changes take full effect in August.

The information came in a just-published written response to members of parliament’s Publilc Accounts Committee who asked what progress was being made with the introduction of new import controls.

In his 2 March letter to PAC chair Meg Hillier, Chisholm said work was “well under way” at inland sites and at ports and airports to ensure that phased controls could be introduced and “all interested departments” had plans in progress to ensure necessary resources  were in place.

“Border Force expects to require a total of 2,000 additional operational staff by July, when full customs import controls are implemented on movements of goods from the EU to GB, but we continue to keep the position under review,” Chisholm said.

“We are confident that these staff will be in place by July. Border Force will continue to train new recruits in customs activities and will provide any required supplementary training and guidance to operational staff.”

Border Force used agency workers to hit a recruitment target for additional staff to meet its resourcing needs for the end of the EU Transition Period in January.

Chishom said in his letter to Hillier that HMRC had successfully increased the numbers of staff working on import-related issues to the levels required at the end of the transition period and was looking to redeploy some of them to other work from April, with further moves from August.

“HMRC Inland Border Facilities are currently staffed at required levels and will not require a significant increase in resourcing in August,” he said. 

“The staff in question are contingent labour, and commercial arrangements are in place to allow flexibility in numbers as required.”

Chisholm added that “a key focus” for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was ensuring local authorities had enough specialist staff in place to carry out checks on livestock and animal products. 

“To support readiness for delivery of the new import controls on animals and animal products, Defra has provided £14m funding to local authorities in England to support Port Health Authorities with the recruitment and training of over 500 new staff, including Official Veterinarians,” he said.

Chisolm added: “All departments are also actively engaged in boosting trader readiness for the phased.”

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