Public Services > Central Government

Heywood eyes Brexit need for further digital specialist recruitment

Neil Merrett Published 12 July 2017

With 2,000 specialists added to the Civil Service since the EU referendum, a similar number of appointments are now expected to help tackle project management and technology expertise demand


With Brexit being viewed as the “biggest and most complex challenge” to face the Civil Service in peacetime history, Sir Jeremy Heywood has said that thousands of new Whitehall roles are being created to tackle issues around project management and digital transformation.

Heywood, who has been the head of the Civil Service since September 2014, said that with 2,000 new positions already created across government to focus on Brexit-related issues, a “similar” number of new specialist roles would be created over the coming year.

These individuals will be charged with looking at areas such as finance, law, digital and trade negotiation functions as parliament seeks to move forward with new legislation, systems and policies to deal with the UK's exit from the European Union, according to a blog post by the Civil Service chief.

Within the UK now committed to a formal withdrawal from EU member state status in 2019, significant questions remain over what life outside the bloc may mean for data protection and sharing, as well as the requirements and legislation driving digital government services.

Although Heywood did not touch on the specific details of these implications and potential impact on Government Digital Service (GDS) policy, Brexit was seen as leading to significant changes to the Civil Service on the back of a wider technology-led approach to overhauling Whitehall structure.

He argued that the Treasury had agreed to provide an additional £400m in extra funding to oversee the Brexit process with a review underway of whether more money may be needed to address Whitehall needs.

“Despite these extra resources, the Civil Service as a whole will continue to reduce in size as the bigger departments like the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs continue to digitalise and improve their customer service,” said Heywood.

“The Civil Service is already at its smallest - and I believe most efficient - since the Second World War. But, within the declining overall total, the resources devoted to the highest political priority of the government - ensuring a successful Brexit - will be protected.”

Alongside the establishment of the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) since the EU referendum, Heywood argued that a much broader cross-departmental approach must be in place.

“Last July the Cabinet Office started an immediate exercise - continuously updated since - to help all government departments identify how Brexit was likely to affect them and what their likely additional resource needs and skills gaps were,” he said.

“Across the Civil Service the key corporate professions and functions - including policy, project delivery, HR, Government Digital Service, and Commercial - came together at pace to identify increased demand for capability in these areas.”

According to Heywood, an integrated fast-track recruitment and vetting system has been put in place to support efforts on preparing the country to exit the EU.

Rather than just being an issue of funding or headcount though, the Civil Service head argued that a new approach was required to meet the significant challenges Brexit posed to Whitehall in the “limited time available” before a formal exit was scheduled.

“We will continue to need to apply best-in-class ways of working, meticulous scenario planning, detailed project management and, above all, deep cross-departmental collaboration,” Heywood claimed.

“The sort of collaboration that saw numerous departments - DExEU, Home Office, FCO, Health, DWP, and others - work as one on the recent announcement of the UK proposal for safeguarding the rights of EU citizens and their families after we leave the EU.”

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