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Resource review and extra funding critical for civil service to deliver Brexit

Source: PSE Aug/Sep 16

Speaking ahead of this year’s party conference season, Dave Penman, general secretary at the FDA Union, discusses the recent Brexit vote and the need to properly resource the Civil Service to deliver the government’s commitments.

In order to deliver the government’s commitments following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the Civil Service requires further funding, not exposure to further cuts, the general secretary of the FDA Union has said. 

Speaking to PSE ahead of this year’s party conference season, Dave Penman said that if the government is to deliver a successful Brexit then there must be a review of public sector spending cuts. 

Discussing the formation of the government’s new Department for Exiting the European Union, led by Brexiteer David Davis, Penman added there is a “huge task in understanding the complexity and scale of what we are dealing with” and that while everyone wants answers, “it will take some time”. 

Redistributing Civil Service cuts 

However, one thing that he does believe will help the situation is greater certainty and understanding of how Whitehall resources will be affected over the course of this Parliament. 

“We are only at the start of a very long journey,” he said, adding that some aspects of Brexit, like negotiating the divorce and trade negotiations, can be started quickly, but bringing power and legislation back to the UK will be complex and vary depending on the policy and where responsibility should lie. 

“In the backdrop of all of that, departments have not only had a 20% cut over the last Parliament; they are facing a further 20% cut in this Parliament,” Penman added. “Even if you maintained that overall cut to the Civil Service you wouldn’t distribute it in the way you are just now. 

“The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, for instance, is going to face a 45% cut in their day-to-day running costs over the next four years – that is simply not going to be possible now. 

“Even if you say the overall envelope is the same, and it might shrink as a result of changes to the economy, you would have to change the resources around.” 

Review of the Spending Review 

The FDA has, therefore,  called for a review of the 2015 Spending Review, stating that with the structural changes to government and the additional responsibilities being taken on by civil servants, “there is no way it can continue the way it is going just now, without some comprehensive strategic look at spending within departments”. 

At the end of Q1 2016, Office for National Statistic figures revealed that there has been a cumulative reduction in civil servant staff numbers since 2010. “The Civil Service is going to be about half the size it was in 2010 by the time we get to 2020,” said Penman, “and that is if there aren’t any further cuts. 

“Then you are adding this area of huge complexity [Brexit]. We think that has to be funded. That requires additional funding for the Civil Service.” 

He added that the priorities set for last year’s Spending Review were decided in 2015 on what the world looked like then, “but the world and priorities of the government now look very different, including the fiscal challenges”. 

Prior to being removed as chancellor, George Osborne abandoned his commitment to return government spending to a surplus by 2020. After taking charge as prime minister, Theresa May confirmed that her government would still seek to achieve a budget surplus, but that this would not be met by the end of this Parliament. 

Penman said it is still unknown what that will mean for government departments, especially as the new man in charge of the Treasury, Philip Hammond, said he may use the Autumn Statement to ‘reset’ Britain’s economic policy. 

“We don’t know how departments are going to be dealt with,” said Penman. “How are posts going to be back-filled, how is the Brexit unit going to be resourced and managed? There are still too many unknowns. It is a big and complex job which will take time to work out. 

“The difficulty is that everyone wants an answer, but it will time to work out an answer.”

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