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BEIS in ‘parallel universe’ around Brexit

The mix of staff recruited by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to carry out its Brexit work lacks the required level of expertise, the public accounts committee has warned.

The department has recruited almost 90% of the staff that it needs, but the committee has expressed concern that there is a lack of the experience and expertise required to deliver a very challenging programme of work at pace.

In February, the committee reported that the scarce information in the public domain about how departments are preparing for the UK’s departure from the EU is undermining scrutiny of progress and that it expects the committee, Parliament and the public to be kept “meaningfully informed” on progress and costs.

Chair of the public accounts committee, Meg Hillier, said that the department appears to be operating in a “parallel universe where urgency is an abstract concept with no bearing on the Brexit process”.

The department is responsible for around a fifth of the work streams that the government must complete as the UK leaves the EU, and Hillier called its workload “extremely important, challenging and time-sensitive”.

However, she reports that the department has told the committee that it has not re-prioritised its overall programme of work, has not started procurement for around a dozen essential digital systems, and was not able to provide vital information about its workforce.

“We have grave concerns about this apparent complacency, compounded by the lack of transparency on the department’s progress with what in some cases will be critical projects,” she said.

Hillier warned that sensitivities around Brexit negotiations must not be used as an excuse to keep taxpayers and Parliament in the dark.

“We urge the government to provide us with a swift update on the issues raised in our report,” she added.

A spokesperson for BEIS argued that the department is focussed on getting the best deal for the UK and ensuring a smooth transition.

“Since this report was written, BEIS has received £185million of extra funding to help deliver a successful Brexit by employing an increased number of staff on our Europe work, identifying the most pressing legislative challenges and remaining ahead of schedule by recruiting high-calibre staff to ensure we prepare thoroughly and effectively,” they added.


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