With just days to go before Prime Minister Theresa May launches Brexit negotiations, a new report warns that the civil service still needs to fill hundreds of roles created to help with the process of quitting the EU.
May will formally trigger Article 50 to begin talks on Wednesday next week, but the UK's public spending watchdog has today warned that Whitehall remains under-resourced for the task.
The civil service created more than 1,000 new roles across the new departments for Brexit and international trade, as well as existing ministries, to help prepare for quitting the EU and the negotiation of trade deals.
However, the National Audit Office said that a third of these roles remain unfilled, while those that have been taken up are largely occupied by staff who have transferred from elsewhere in government.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: “Government has gaps in its capability and knows it must do more to develop the skills it needs. It is making plans to do so but scale of the challenge ahead means greater urgency is needed.
“Without a short-term solution to its capability gaps government must get better at planning and prioritising its activities and be prepared to stop work on those it is not confident it has the capability to deliver.”
The public spending watchdog also warned that these concerns are heightened by the numbers of highly complex projects such as Hinkley Point C, High Speed 2, and the Trident renewal currently underway.
In a survey of Whitehall departments, the NAO found that ministries gave themselves an average score of 2.1 out of five for capability in workforce planning.
In addition, departments also told the NAO that Whitehall is likely to need roughly 2,000 extra stuff in specialised digital roles within five years time, at an estimated cost of £244m.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, said: “The UK is well placed to deal with the challenges, and take advantage of the opportunities, that lie ahead as we prepare for Brexit.
“We are focused on delivering this Government’s commitment to leave the EU and get the very best deal for the UK. We are equipping ourselves with the right people and the right skills across government to make this happen.
“At the same time, the Civil Service is also working hard to make sure that all the priorities of the Government are being delivered.”