Brexit Department Insists It's Up To The Challenge, Denying There Are '143 Vacant Roles'

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) has insisted that its resources "match the demands we face," after two sets of figures revealed potential issues with its staffing.

The response came as an influential think tank warned the government would need to work harder to keep people in influential Brexit delivery roles and reduce "churn."

A freedom of information request submitted by the pro-EU activist Shaun Davey revealed that the department "has funding for an additional 143 vacant roles, all full time, which we will look to take onboard over the next four months."

The two largest categories for these roles were in the policy team, which has funding for an additional 81 staff, and in business support and private office staff, where the department is looking to hire an additional 18 people.

A government source stressed that these were not 143 active vacancies, but said that instead the department had enough funds allocated to take on these roles when it needs them. DExEU will have to expand as Brexit talks advance to more complicated issues surrounding trade.

Theresa May Jean-Claude Juncker Brexit Deal
British and EU negotiators, including Brexit Secretary David Davis at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2017. Davis's department is facing high staff "churn," a think tank says. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Meanwhile, a separate report found that staff "churn" at DExEU "makes it hard to build up institutional knowledge and memory."

In an article on the Institute for Government (IfG) website, Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who now works at the think tank as Programme Director, wrote that staffing issues were sufficient to "cause concern."

IfG research shows that over 40 percent of DExEU staff are looking to leave either "asap," or within the next 12 months, comfortably the highest level in Whitehall.

"DExEU is a newly-established, fast-paced department and we are committed to making it a great place to work," a department spokesperson said.

"We recognise that this is a challenging environment as we work hard to achieve the best possible outcome from the Brexit negotiations so we continue to make sure our resources match the demands we face.

"We want all of our staff members to thrive which is why we actively support their wellbeing and promote internal policies that recognize their hard work."

Rutter wrote: "Anecdotal evidence suggests the internal churn... is also high, this churn makes it hard to build up institutional knowledge and memory."

"Churn happens despite DExEU staff being relatively happy, according to the civil service People Survey.

"This could be explained to some extent by the age profile. High turnover is a feature of young departments and the median age at DExEU is just 31 (similar to the Treasury).

"DExEU also has a very high proportion of Fast Stream civil servants, whose career development assumes they move every six months.

"Nonetheless this degree of churn in the department at the forefront of coordinating the complicated task of leaving the EU should cause concern both within and outside the department."

Rutter said that the government should do more to ensure its best Brexit staff stayed on for longer, keeping expertise within the department.

"The civil service is notoriously bad at keeping people in the same post," Rutter said, "however critical that is to project success. For the 2012 Olympics, staff who stayed until the opening ceremony were often warned that it was bad for their career.

"But Brexit is not the Olympics—it is more complicated and more important. The Government cannot rely on enthusiasm to keep people in post.

"It needs to develop and deploy incentives to keep people in essential roles for long enough to deliver—even if that means suspending the anarchic internal civil service job market for the next couple of years and paying some decent completion bonuses."