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02.05.17

Civil Service must be clear about its ‘mission and role’ ahead of Brexit

The Civil Service must be absolutely clear about its “mission and role” and the principles upon which it is based in anticipation of the challenges being raised by Brexit, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has today stated.

The committee of MPs also urged the new government to consider the relationship between civil servants and ministers in post-Brexit Britain, as the committee recommended that its successor continued to look into these issues arising for the Civil Service.

In a report released today, the committee also reiterated warnings made back in March that the Civil Service was not properly resourced ahead of the UK leaving the EU.

PACAC said it believed that civil servants struggled to prioritise successfully under the pressures of too many projects, programmes of activity and policy delivery commitments.

On top of that, concern was also raised about the way subject specialism and expertise were deployed in the Civil Service, as in many departments it was found that management skills were prioritised over subject knowledge.

Chair of PACAC, Bernard Jenkin MP said: “We believe that this is the first time that there has been select committee consideration of the relationship between ministers and officials with the active support of government and the Civil Service.

“When this committee is reformed after the election, we do hope that it will continue this work, working in co-operation with government, and take forward our initial findings in this area.”

Jenkin also said it was important that the question of who at the top is driving the reform agenda within the service.

However, Civil Service union the FDA said the report was clear evidence that the government was still failing to match commitments with the resources it provides to the service, and making the situation worse by “insisting on Brexit on the cheap”.

General secretary Dave Penman said the report’s recommendation that the government should be pressed to make sure civil servants are appropriately resourced to meet Brexit challenges was particularly welcome.

“With the Civil Service now 26% smaller than it was a decade ago, the report highlights, as others have done, that the government struggles to prioritise, with ‘too many projects, programmes of activity and policy delivery commitments being pursued simultaneously with little chance of success’,” he said.

Earlier in the year, the FDA also made the statement that British civil servants were at risk of being little more than ‘cheerleaders’ under current plans with regards to the UK’s route out of Europe.

Penman added: “This reflects the experience of FDA members – those on the frontline of delivering the government’s agenda – only a fifth of whom believe their department has sufficient resources to meet the demands of the year ahead.

“Meanwhile, our recent Working Hours Survey of FDA members finds that a quarter are already working unpaid hours equivalent to an additional day every week, while two-thirds say they have worked while on sick or annual leave.”

Penman stated that facing up to the challenges that lie ahead as the UK leaves the EU meant that now, more than ever, Britain needed a strong Civil Service – regardless of which party wins the general election.  

“The general election provides an opportunity for a new government, of whatever colour, to think again about the demands placed on the civil service – and the resources needed to meet those challenges,” he concluded.

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