Brexit: 75% of public sector leaders say government is ‘keeping them in the dark’

Cipfa survey also finds three quarters of leaders are “more negative about Brexit now than last year”

Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

By Tamsin Rutter

27 Jun 2018

Three quarters of leaders in the public sector, including central government, feel that the government hasn’t engaged with their organisation enough over Brexit, according to a new survey.

The poll by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) found that almost half of public organisations say they are not receiving enough information to enable them to plan effectively for Brexit.

Cipfa, the professional body for accountants working in public services, called on government to shed light on the nature of the future relationship with the EU in enough time  to allow public services time to respond.


The survey also revealed that 75% of leaders reported feeling more negative about Brexit now than they did a year ago. Most respondents – 83% – said they thought Brexit would be highly detrimental or detrimental to public services, while just 5% said it would be highly beneficial or beneficial.

Some 44% said they were receiving an insufficient amount of information from government, which was hampering plans to prepare for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Rob Whiteman, Cipfa’s chief executive and the former chief executive of UK Border Force, said of the findings: “It’s now been two years since the Brexit vote and fourteen months since Article 50 was triggered, yet the vast majority of public services leaders still feel that the government is keeping them in the dark.

“As the government must want a Brexit dividend to be a more sustainable and effective public sector, it is crucial that light is shed on what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like and soon. Otherwise, public service leaders won’t have the time or information to respond.”

The results of the poll concur with a recent report by the Institute for Government, which found that political tensions within the Cabinet were driving “inordinate levels of secrecy” around Brexit and hampering the civil service attempts to prepare for Brexit.

Other findings of Cipfa’s poll include:

  • Half of public service leaders thought Brexit would have a major impact on the policy that shapes their sector. 18% thought it would have a severe impact and 16% a minor impact.
  • Around two fifths (42%) of public service leaders said they weren’t sure there would be opportunities to reshape key policy and regulation for the better after Brexit. A third thought there wouldn’t be, but a quarter thought there would be.
  • Almost half of public service leaders thought Brexit would have a negative impact on the availability of labour and skills, 17% a highly negative impact. A third said they thought it would have no impact either way.
  • Some 60% of public service leaders weren’t budgeting for Brexit in their medium-term financial plans, but a third were.

Julia Goldsworthy, a former Liberal Democrat MP who is now the director of strategy for West Midlands Combined Authority and chairs Cipfa’s Brexit Advisory Commission for Public Services, said: “It is critical that communication channels are open between the government and public service leaders over Brexit.

“Not just to ensure that public services leaders have an adequate level of information to plan effectively, but also to help identify reform opportunities presented by Brexit that will help organisations better meet the needs of the communities they serve.”

The Brexit Advisory Committee plans to examine the draft deal between the UK and the EU, to assess whether it will change public services to more effectively meet the needs and expectations of communities. 

Cipfa surveyed 282 leaders – at the rank of chief executives, directors and chief financial officers – from a range of public sector organisations including in central government, non-departmental public bodies, police, local government, housing associations and the NHS.

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