High staff turnover at Defra could threaten the successful delivery of post-Brexit agriculture policy, according to a new report from the Institute for Government (IFG).
The document suggested massive delays to farm payments between 2012 and 2015, which caused ‘significant anxiety and hardship for farmers’, could be attributed to the movement of senior staff responsible for their delivery.
Since then, Brexit has exacerbated the turnover problem, with more than 30 per cent of Defra staff leaving the department in 2016/17.
A further ten per cent of officials in the same year had been in post for less than 12 months – almost double the number recorded in 2013/14.
Tom Sasse, co-author of the IFG report, said: “In many Whitehall departments, including Defra, staff turnover is very high when compared with other civil services and private sector organisations. This leads to significant problems.
“It adds costs to departmental budgets in recruitment, training and lost productivity; it degrades knowledge, which undermines good policy making; and it de-rails major projects, such as the Common Agricultural Policy Payment Scheme in Defra’s case.
“Brexit recruitment has only added to staff movement – which means departments face a real challenge if they are to get the expertise and continuity in post they need to see through the delivery of major post-Brexit policies.”
The IFG’s warning comes shortly after Defra lost its top civil servant, permanent secretary Clare Moriarty, who was poached by the Department for Exiting the EU.
Her departure was announced just six days after former Farming Minister George Eustice resigned over the Government’s Brexit strategy.
Mr Sasse said: “Permanent secretaries only stay in post around three years, closer to English football managers than UK chief executives.
“Given Ministers also turn over extremely quickly too, senior officials should provide continuity at the top of departments.
“It can be very disruptive to have both Ministers and senior officials changing.”