Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater has called on staff to volunteer for secondments to help the civil service deal with the potential fallout from a no-deal Brexit.
In an internal communication, Slater suggested his department was “in discussion” with education secretary Damian Hinds about the prospect of moving to a footing that would see it concentrate on key services only, in order to free up staff for work on preparing the UK for leaving the European Union on March 29 without an exit agreement.
“Please, if you feel able, put yourselves forward to help the civil service with the vital work that needs to be done now to minimise the consequences of a no-deal exit,” Slater said, according to an excerpt from his message, published by The Times.
The paper suggested similar messages were being sent to staff at the Ministry of Justice, and the Department for Work and Pensions. It said the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development were also seen has having capacity to divert staff to no-deal Brexit roles.
The Times added that plans were afoot for a “command, control and co-ordination structure” at HM Revenue & Customs and proposals for eight new team leaders at the cross-departmental Border Delivery Group. Along with teh Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, HMRC is likely to be among the most stretched departments if no deal can be reached ahead of Brexit day.
Last month, Civil Service World reported that the Cabinet Office was putting together a 50-strong contingency team to deal with crises related to Brexit. HMRC perm sec Jon Thompson suggested in October that his department would need an additional 3,000 staff to cope with a no-deal exit – on top of the 2,300 additional staff hired for the anticipated orderly departure.
The figure was consistent with a pan-Whitehall estimate given by civil service chief executive John Manzoni last month. He told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee there were some 10,000 officials working to prepare the government for Brexit, with 5,000 more “in the pipeline”. Some of those staff would be external recruits, while others have redeployed from other areas, he said.
Manzoni said he expected to hire between 2,000 and 3,000 more civil servants to work on Brexit if the UK and EU signed off on a final withdrawal agreement, rising to 5,000 if there was no deal. “A lot of those are operational border guards and customs people, but many of them are the kinds of people that we need for implementation,” he said.
Shortly before parliament rose for the Christmas recess, the government provided allocation from the £2bn fund to help departments boost their Brexit preparedness, while defence secretary Gavin Williamson said 3,500 troops were “on standby” to support departments with contingencies related to the UK’s departure from the European Union.
A government spokesperson did not dispute any of the details relating to DfE perm sec Slater’s reported comments.
“The civil service remains focused on delivering this government's commitment to leave the EU and get the very best deal for the UK,” they said.
“To do this, we are equipping ourselves with the right people and skills across government to make this happen. As we get closer to the time where we will leave the EU, it is sensible and right for the civil service to accelerate preparations."