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Three things to know about Whitehall and Brexit

The Institute for Government’s groundbreaking Whitehall Monitor came out this week - this year, it focusses on the readiness of the civil service to deliver Brexit. Here are three choice charts and three key points from Gavin Freeguard, the Institute’s Head of Data and Transparency.

The civil service is smaller than it’s ever been since the Second World War

...there were 384,950 civil servants (full-time equivalent) in September 2016. It’s also older and more top-heavy, with a higher proportion of staff in senior grades than in 2010. However, it’s staying positive in the face of challenges ahead - with engagement levels higher than the 2010 benchmark. That’s with the exception of a worrying morale problem at the Department of Health.

Government is already doing too much, never mind leaving the EU

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) has reduced the number of projects it oversees from 188 in 2015 to 143 this year. This suggests more manageable projects - 45% of new projects in 2015 were completed or became business-as-usual that year. But the government is taking on more risky projects - and confidence in projects that have been in the portfolio since 2013 has also dropped for the first time.

Despite an expensive restructuring, however, Whitehall seems ready to support negotiations

It may prove to have been a costly mistake to set up three separate Brexit departments. It cost £15 million to set up the Department for Energy and Climate Change in 2008, only to be broken up nine years later. However, the Department for Exiting the EU seems to have got off to a good start, reporting high confidence amongst teams and a strong sense of leadership. It’s intended to be a lean coordinating department at the centre of government, with about 400 staff. That’s good news, because the Prime Minister will lead Brexit negotiations herself. Here’s who else will do the deal:
So why is it important to look at this data? we asked Gavin. “The decisions taken in Whitehall – the centre of British government – impact on people all over the country. Understanding the way it works is vital.”

What’s the story? “Whitehall departments are continuing to function despite big reductions to staff and budgets. But it’s difficult to know what their priorities are and how they’re performing, which is worrying as it faces the challenge of Brexit.”

What concerns you this year? “The patchy performance on publishing some key transparency data and withholding more information in response to Freedom of Information requests raises questions about the future of openness under this Government.”
Read the full report.

Quick Reads

Assumed dependency. There are no simple solutions to the housing crisis, but we might start with a “risky, debt-heavy, unaffordable and short termist” model of financing. Nesta

Check the small print. It’s often assumed that the gig economy offers welcome flexibility to women. Actually, it reinforces existing barriers to good work and economic empowerment. Overseas Development Institute

Green and pleasant. Can Brexit be good for both farmers and the environment? Green Alliance

Game changer. Given the UK’s worsening fiscal position, a national “low tax strategy” simply isn’t an option. Reform

How to make industrial strategy work

The government released a green paper on industrial strategy this week, and is inviting responses until 17 April. Here are the hot takes from the think tanks:

  1. A place-based approach is needed, because inclusive growth doesn’t happen by itself. Centre for Cities
  2. A change in culture, where more of the country adopts entrepreneurial values, is essential and local government should take the lead. NLGN
  3. The strategy is right to make an explicit connection between the UK’s centralised governance and low productivity. NLGN
  4. It must recognise competition “as an organizing economic principle”. Legatum Institute
  5. Give the proposed Institutes of Technology one primary purpose and stick to it. Wonkhe
  6. The focus on expanding vocational education is welcomed by everyone, but is the government willing to divert resources from universities to make this happen? Education Policy Institute


Talent pool. Liverpool City Region is primed for growth, but the new metro mayor should focus on giving residents a second chance at gaining skills. Centre for Cities

Zombie capitalism. A decade of unconventional monetary policy - not least £435 billion of quantitative easing - is keeping uncompetitive companies afloat, and dragging down growth. Centre for Policy Studies

£169. The average cost to low income families of localising council tax in England. New Policy Institute

Access for cash. The UK has tended to support EU financial policy where it’s created markets for the City - what happens when we’re out? SPERI and Policy Network

“Jobs producer”. The UK has done far better than the US at getting people into jobs since the crisis, despite similar exposure to globalisation - and this is due to policy choices. Resolution Foundation

Measuring happiness is now a serious business for public policy. Why? It directs resources towards impactful interventions, identifies vulnerable groups, and helps leverage social multiplier effects. Social Market Foundation and Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy

See also

Magic sauce. Lose hours analysing your communications using psychometric data from 69,000 volunteers. The Psychometric Centre, University of Cambridge

Politics is back...and the Davos crowd didn’t see it coming. Flip Chart Fairy Tales

Eamonn Boylan. Stockport’s chief executive will head up Greater Manchester’s ‘super council’. Manchester Evening News

Think Tanks

James Kirkup will be the new Director of the Social Market Foundation


Data Journalist. Bureau for Investigative Journalism. Salary dependent on experience. Apply by 1 February

Public Policy Specialist. ICAEW. £33k. Apply by 10 February.

Chief Economist. Social Market Foundation. Salary dependent on experience. Apply by 13th February

Policy and Communications Assistant. Standing Committee for Youth Justice. £20k pro rata. Apply by 14th February.

Researcher (Social Integration). British Academy. Consultancy position. Apply by 19th February.

Senior Project Manager (Maternity Cover). NatCen. £40-45k. Apply by 22 February.

Research Fellow. ILC-UK. £25-£35k. Apply by 27 February.

Deputy Editor. CapX at the Centre for Policy Studies. Competitive salary. No closing date.

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Compiled by Tom Jeffery
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