Staff numbers up at five government departments, IfG analysis finds

Think tank says civil service cuts may be tailing off ahead of Brexit talks

By Richard Johnstone

17 Mar 2017

Five government departments, including HM Revenue & Customs and the Cabinet Office, saw an increase in staff numbers in the last three months of 2016, according to an analysis by the Institute for Government.

In a review of the figures published on 15 March by the Office for National Statistics, the think tank highlighted that although the civil service is 19% smaller than in 2010, the pace of cuts may be tailing off as Whitehall prepares for Brexit negotiations. The headcount across the whole of government has been effectively unchanged for last nine months.

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Within Whitehall, IfG researcher Alice Lilly highlighted that five departments had seen an increase in numbers over the three-month period, while nine had seen a drop in employment levels.

The departments with an increase in headcount were the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education, HMRC, the Department for International Development and the Department for Transport.

The largest percentage increase was an 8.5% hike at the Cabinet Office, although this was explained by its numbers including new starters at the Department for Exiting the European Union under the ONS’s methodology for the quarter,

HMRC, which is the second largest department in Whitehall behind the Department for Work and Pensions according to the IfG analysis, saw an increase in staff numbers of 1,490,  2.5% more.

This may be due to the department preparing for the additional workload caused by Brexit, Lilly indicated.

The inclusion of former Concentrix staff, brought in-house at HMRC following the termination of the ill-fated outsourced Tax Credits checking contract, is likely to have made a substantial contribution to the tax-collection agency's increased headcount.

However other departments likely to be heavily affected by leaving the EU continued to see decreases in their workforces. For example, the Home Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs both saw reductions in numbers.

“Many of Defra’s responsibilities fall under EU law, meaning that its work will be especially impacted by Brexit – but the department is 34% smaller than in 2010,” Lilly noted. “This is a fall second only to that of DCLG, which is now 44% smaller than 2010, having shed more than 1,000 (full time equivalent) staff.”

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