- REUTERS/Toby Melville
- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is recruiting 1,200 extra staff to cope with Brexit.
- National Audit Office said the department is “under significant strain” and de-prioritising other work while it prepares for Brexit.
LONDON – The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is recruiting 1,200 extra staff to cope with Brexit and is “under significant strain” from the task, according to a new report.
The National Audit Office (NAO) on Thursday published a report into how DEFRA is preparing for Britain’s exit from the UK. The report says that DEFRA has recruited 650 extra full-time staff to deal with the task, with a further 150 appointed but not yet in the post. The department hoping to recruit a further 400 employees by March of next year.
The recruitment drive represents a big shift for DEFRA, which is headed by Michael Gove. The department has cut staffing levels by around 18% since 2010. The current drive would increase staffing levels by around 5% from current levels.
The NAO warns: “Recruitment is expected to become more challenging as competition for skilled staff increases across government and the private sector.”
Many of the staff required also need “specialist analytical skills and people with deep policy expertise in particular areas (e.g. chemical regulation) to deliver EU Exit,” NAO said, increasing the challenges of recruitment. DEFRA oversees everything from fisheries policies to chemical regulation.
The NAO estimates that 95 pieces of secondary legislation need to be converted into UK law by the time Britain leaves the EU and 80% of DEFRA’s work is currently framed by EU legislation, showing the scale of the task.
“Defra is currently responsible for 43 of the 313 EU-related work streams identified across government – the second highest of any department,” the NAO report said. “These vary in scope and scale from rewording existing EU guidance to establishing new domestic regulatory regimes.”
Leaving the EU will leave DEFRA with an annual funding shortfall of £3.3 billion, meaning the department must devise new post-Brexit income streams, NAO said.
At the same time, DEFRA’s budget is being cut by the Treasury and NAO warns: “The scale of its EU Exit programme, alongside maintaining business as usual and delivering budget reductions, means that Defra is under significant pressure.
“Individual workloads at all levels have increased markedly as a result of EU Exit, putting pressure on its organisational resilience.”
DEFRA is de-prioritising other jobs, such as ensuring Britain’s flood resilience and environmental crisis work, as a result of the huge Brexit workload, NAO said.