Whitehall Monitor 2019: Brexit impact being felt throughout government

By agency reporter
January 23, 2019

The uncertainties of Brexit are causing serious disruptions across government and have distracted from the day to day business of government including the delivery of public services and management of major projects, a new report finds.

Published by the Institute for Government, the sixth annual Whitehall Monitor collects and analyses data to enable those running government to be more effective and help Parliament and the public hold them to account.

The report finds that:

  • The demands of Brexit have reversed the recent shrinking of the civil service, from a post-war low of 384,260 in June 2016 to 404,160 in September 2018. This recruitment drive has reversed one in five of the job cuts between 2010 and the referendum.
  • Minority government and Brexit have constrained the Government’s ability to pass legislation. Only five of the 13 bills which the Government has said it needs to pass ahead of Brexit have made it through Parliament.
  • There have been an unprecedented number of ministerial resignations (21 in total from the election to the end of 2018) many of which can be attributed to Brexit. This means more than half of current Cabinet ministers and half of all ministers took on their role only in 2018.
  • High levels of civil service turnover are proving both expensive – costing up to £74 million each year - and disruptive, as knowledge and expertise is lost. In the last year some departments – including the Treasury – lost two in every five of their civil servants either to other departments or to roles outside the civil service, partly due to Brexit.
  • Civil servants across Whitehall have been redeployed to focus on Brexit, with a third of Treasury staff working on Brexit.
  • The risk of major projects – of which there are currently 133 –  not being delivered on time and on budget is growing. Less than a fifth of major projects are currently rated green (successful delivery is likely) or amber/green rating (successful delivery is probable), compared to almost half in 2013. HS2, meanwhile, is now rated amber/red (“major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas”).
  • On the positive side, the last year has seen developments in the professional expertise of the civil service and the continued growth of digital public services, as well as impressive speed in hiring more people to work on Brexit. 

Gavin Freeguard, Programme Director at the Institute for Government and author of the report, said: “Two months before the UK’s scheduled departure from the European Union, British politics continues to be torn apart by Brexit. Government preparations for the UK’s exit have been impeded by political division.

“Despite the expansion of the civil service during 2018, many aspects of the day to day work of government – from managing major projects to delivering public services – have been hindered by the all-consuming political focus on Brexit.”

* Read Whitehall Monitor 2019 here

* Institute for Government https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/


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