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House of Commons Hansard
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Leaving the EU: Civil Service Responsibilities
13 March 2019
Volume 656
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4. What assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage its additional responsibilities as a result of the UK leaving the EU. [909763]

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The Government are equipping themselves with the right people and the right skills to deliver the UK’s exit from the European Union. We now have more than 14,500 people working specifically on EU exit-related policy and programmes across government. Workforce plans will continue to be reviewed to ensure that the civil service can always respond to emerging capacity and capability requirements.

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What assessment has the Department made of the impact on other Departments, many of which have seen civil servants transferred into working on our strategy for exiting the EU?

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We have more than 400,000 civil servants across Departments and across the country, many of whom have areas that cross over with the work they are doing on the EU. We work with Departments to ensure that we are using the right skills in the right places to make sure that we are prepared to leave the EU in a good and orderly fashion.

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Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what measures are being taken to return civil servants who work in the EU—in Brussels and other parts—to the UK to carry on their duties?

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Obviously, as we leave the European Union, the civil servants who have been focused on those issues will continue to do the work they need to do that relates to the EU. Where that work ceases, they will be moved back into the relevant civil service areas, as is required, across Departments.

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At a meeting of the Cabinet Office in December, it was reportedly agreed that all non-essential Government business is to be suspended so that civil servants can concentrate on no-deal planning. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government consider the housing crisis, resourcing the Home Office to process settled status applicants, the failure of universal credit and the delays to HS2 to be essential or non-essential business?

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The best advice I can give the hon. Lady is not to get tempted to believe rumours of Cabinet leaks that she reads about in the newspapers. If she looks at the Government’s track record, she will see that we are delivering record employment levels and record low unemployment, that we are improving wage levels for people who work for the Government, and that we are delivering for people, with good and outstanding education continuing. I am sure she will look forward to hearing more about that in the spring statement later today.

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Compared with two years ago when we triggered article 50, how much more and better prepared is the civil service right across the UK for what needs to happen in the next few months?

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Work has continued over the past two years. As the hon. Gentleman may recall from answers I have given at the Dispatch Box over the past year or so, the number of civil servants focused on this policy area has changed and increased as required, so that we are ready to leave the European Union on 29 March.

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It is clear, is it not, that Brexit will mean a lot of change, upheaval and uncertainty for ordinary civil servants throughout the country. I was therefore genuinely astounded to learn last week from the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union that not a single meeting had taken place with national officers of that union to discuss Brexit. When will the Government start to discuss these matters with representatives of the workforce they depend on to deliver services throughout the country?

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We are engaged not only across the devolved authorities but with union officials, at both ministerial and official level, on a regular basis.