A cross-party group of MPs has called on Government departments, including Defra, to stop some day-to-day projects in order to get on top of their Brexit workload.
In a new report, the Public Accounts Committee recommended departments look again at their existing commitments to ‘test their realism’ against capacity and resources by March 2018.
The recommendation was made amid growing concerns over the cost of Brexit planning and civil service skills shortages.
“Government departments have to face up to some hard choices as they handle Brexit”, the report read.
“Departments already have a lot to deliver besides Brexit and need to prioritise, including stopping some projects to make room for essential Brexit work.”
Business-as-usual activity, planned business changes and manifesto commitments should all be up for the chop according to the MPs, who also demanded departments publish details of which projects had been stopped by April 2018.
Department for Exiting the EU records show Defra had 43 active Brexit work streams in November last year, second only to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which had 69.
As a result of this heavy workload, Defra has received millions of pounds from the Treasury for Brexit preparations, but its core budget – already halved over the past nine years – will continue to be slashed until at least 2020.
MPs on the committee warned the problems with cash were being compounded by an inability to recruit the right staff across Whitehall.
The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for ensuring departments have the people they need, admitted the Government did not have the technical, project or senior leadership capacity to deliver Brexit alongside the rest of its planned activity.
Competing against private sector organisations preparing for Brexit was another recruitment concern for the Cabinet Office, with a spokesman telling MPs: “I think there could be an issue in the marketplace; we are competing for skills which are pretty rare.”
The committee has recommended ‘credible plans’ be put together to identify, recruit and get in place people with the right skills as quickly as possible.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove has previously said he is confident Defra will be properly resourced in future, pointing to increased staff numbers and extra cash from the Treasury.