The civil service needs to hire around 1,300 specialists in areas such as project management and digital for the “implementation” phase of Brexit, Whitehall’s chief executive has confirmed.
John Manzoni, who also serves as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, told MPs yesterday that the civil service had centralised and simplified its recruitment processes to prepare for Britain’s EU exit.
But he also raised concerns about having to compete for digital staff with the private sector, when questioned by the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee about how departments are monitoring and funding Brexit-related projects.
Manzoni described Whitehall’s Brexit’s work as being in phases, with the first phase – looking at the problem and understanding the nature of the issues – having gone “extremely well”.
He said the next phase was going to be more focused on implementation.
“That is a process that Whitehall is less familiar with, I would say, in history, but a process which nonetheless we have been focusing very hard on,” he said. “I would say that is work in progress.”
Manzoni told MPs that Whitehall had identified 3,750 new roles needed to deliver Brexit – around 2,400 of which had already been filled, with 25% of those from outside government.
He added: “We’ve established a process and a machine that can redeploy and hire the kinds of people that we’ve needed. Most of those to date have been, actually, policy-oriented people, and as we go to the next phase they’re going to be different kinds of people – they’re going to be people who need to build systems, or people who need to manage projects, or perhaps do some commercial…
“Do we have the people that we need for today? Yes. Do we have the people that we will need to build all of this stuff in the next year or 18 months? The answer’s no, and we’ve got to go and get them.”
Manzoni said Whitehall was on its first central recruitment campaign for technology, and its third for project management – which will seek to place 150 staff. Some 100 project management staff have been placed so far through these central campaigns.
He also said the “functional structure” that was set up across government had helped them hire specialist staff, and that a new vetting system had been put in place to speed up background checks.
However, Manzoni conceded that for tech skills in particular, the civil service would be competing for talent with the private sector. It was having conversations with suppliers to work out how they can help Whitehall manage demand for skills, he said.
The committee asked about Whitehall’s work on reprioritisation, which Manzoni said was ongoing. Around 4,500 staff – some external hires – were moved into the two new departments, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade.
“About 1,000 people have been moved across the system after the establishment of these two departments,” said Manzoni. “They weren’t doing nothing, so whatever they were doing has stopped and is now concentrating on Brexit.”
At the same committee hearing, DExEU perm sec Philip Rycroft said his department had scaled up from around 40 ex-Cabinet Office staff to more than 600 people drawn from across the civil service and outside of government.
He added that the department was in a good position at that moment but would keep resourcing under constant review and may need to recruit people with different types of skills as negotiations progress.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP and the PAC member chairing the hearing, asked if it was of concern that DExEU had only identified 17 of its employees as operational delivery staff in a recent National Audit Office report on implementing Brexit.
Rycroft insisted that DExEU had a coordinating role, and that the operational side of Brexit rested largely with the other departments.
Manzoni also assured MPs that many of the new hires had not been given permanent contracts to reflect the transitory nature of Brexit work – but Rycroft was keen to affirm that his department had committed to support career development and help staff transition from DExEU once its work had wrapped up.
DExEU was urged by the PAC earlier this month to get a grip on staff churn, after the NAO reported its average turnover at 9% a quarter, compared with the civil service average of 9% a year.