Leaving the EU: Civil Servants

Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 2017.

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The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

How many full-time equivalent civil servants have been assigned work relating to the UK’s exit from the EU in the last twelve months; and what estimate he has made of the cost of that work.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The whole Government are preparing for the UK to make an orderly and successful exit from the European Union. We are equipping ourselves with the right people and the right skills across the Government to make that happen. Although workforce planning is primarily the responsibility of each Department to determine, the civil service constantly reviews its capabilities in this respect.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

After a decade of austerity, it seems that £400 million and 8,000 new staff, including 5,000 for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, can be found to deal with Brexit. Will the Minister tell Treasury and HMRC bosses that it is more ludicrous than ever to propose to close Cumbernauld tax office, with its experienced and dedicated workforce?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Cabinet Office works closely with HMRC on workforce planning and, indeed, on Government hubs, with which we are seeking to make sure that we make the best possible use of our resources to provide an effective civil service that provides the best service for his constituents.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Given the additional burdens on civil servants from Brexit, does the Minister agree that the civil service people survey is important to Ministers for judging the working conditions, training and skills of our civil servants? Does she share my surprise that yesterday, in his evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Public and Commercial Services Union representative said that he actively encouraged members not to reply to that survey? Will she reaffirm how increasingly important the survey is, so that we can get feedback and ensure we have the right capacity and capabilities in the civil service?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that the survey is crucial to Ministers, and I greet it with relish when it arrives on my desk. It provides invaluable information about our workforce, their attitudes and how they feel about working for us. I am very surprised at the PCS comments, but I reassure all unions that I continue to leave my door open to them and that I am as interested in their views as I am in everybody else’s.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East

Has the Minister seen the remarks made by the eminent former senior civil servant, Sir Martin Donnelly, who set up the new Department for International Trade? Will she take heed of his warning to the Government:

“We are now just 16 months from Brexit—the biggest shock to the UK economy in living memory”?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I am sure that it will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that the Cabinet Office works closely with those Departments most affected by exit from the EU, including the Department for International Trade as well as the Department for Exiting the European Union and, of course, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I have seen those comments, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are making sure that we have the right people in place to deliver the successful transition we need.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

The Cabinet Office is supposedly co-ordinating this country’s exit from the European Union, so it really ought to know this stuff. The Minister has not answered the question. Will she clarify whether that is because she does not think that Parliament is entitled to the information about how many staff are working on it and how much it costs, or is it because the process is such a shambles that she is unable to provide that information?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

We have already created 3,000 new roles, 2,000 of which have been filled. As I have said, further roles will be created and, specifically, the Cabinet Office is working most closely with those Departments most affected.