Australian public servants and consultants could help prop up the British civil service if it begins to implode following Brexit.
With the UK still in shock after last week’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), there is growing recognition that disentangling the country from Europe will be a huge task; a task made more difficult with Civil Service staffing levels in Britain at their lowest levels since the Second World War after a series of deep job cuts and redundancies.
Much of the work ahead will demand people with high calibre legal, cost-benefit analysis, auditing and policy skills to evaluate thousands of EU-related laws and regulations and decide whether to keep, change or ditch them.
Diplomacy and economic know-how will also be called upon as Britain negotiates its new trading position with Europe and the rest of the world.
Another significant workload will be generated by the large number of UK government departments that receive chunks of EU funding for various programs – not to mention the staff they employ – as the government works out what must be cut and what projects still need to be funded without relying on EU cash.
Aussies seeking fresh UK job opportunities could, for example, head to the new EU Unit within the Cabinet Office, which brings together officials from the Cabinet Office, Treasury, Foreign Office and Business Department.
The unit is charged with negotiating Britain’s departure from Europe and devising new terms governing trade and the freedom of movement.
In his statement to the House of Commons following the vote, British Prime Minister David Cameron called Brexit the “most complex and most important task that the British Civil Service has undertaken in decades” and said the new unit would contain the “best and brightest” from the UK Civil Service.
Mr Cameron said: “It will report to the whole of the Cabinet on delivering the outcome of the referendum, advising on transitional issues and exploring objectively options for our future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world from outside the EU.
“And it will be responsible for ensuring that the new Prime Minister has the best possible advice from the moment of their arrival.”
The question is, are there enough of these people left?
Dr Genevieve Knight from the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University said that despite the upheaval in the UK and the possibility of a recession, Australians were unlikely to be deterred from travelling to the UK for work.
The UK is still the gap year of choice for a high number of Aussies and many have a European heritage.
“The monetary incentives could be quite compelling, especially as the exchange rate has fallen,” Dr Knight says.
In fact, she says “the odds are on” for an increase in Australian public servants working in Britain following Brexit “if the demand for civil servant workforce increases, as it seems it will with good gambling odds”, especially as the two countries interact a lot already.
[quote]“They’re highly skilled, they speak English and they’re part of the Commonwealth so they respect Her Majesty’s government.”[/quote]
She points out too, that there is a clear political affinity between the Conservative/Coalition governments currently in power in both countries.
There is an established pattern of Australians – including public servants – decamping to Britain and other parts of the Commonwealth, further entrenched by expectations of APS career paths, where people changed postings at least every two years, says Dr Knight.
“The whole system of the civil service is very much modelled on consistent movement.”
But the single, biggest factor is the sheer volume of work that UK public servants are going to have to get through as the complexities of withdrawing from the EU are gradually revealed.
“A massive work programme for public servants has now started with literally thousands of pages and thousands and thousands of billed hours of legislative legal work and all other departmental work, budgets and programs of work need to be revised,” Dr Knight said.
“At the risk of sounding like Nigel Farage, this is because the EU has an enormous bureaucracy and those 60 years of hard work after the Second World War building the public servant legislative boundaries of this are interwoven into the very fabric of the British legislation across all facets of the Government.”
A combination of a relatively unionised UK public service and the UK government’s austerity budget and savage public sector job cuts means consultants could be one of the few winners post-Brexit.
Dr Knight reckons the big four international accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst &Young and PWC – could well be sizing up the UK as a potential source of business.
[quote]“It sounds possibly like a clarion dinner bell calling to “The Consultants” to step in and help out,”[/quote] Dr Knight says. “That’s because their fees aren’t usually part of the planned departmental budget of expenditures.
Dr Knight says the British government will either need to take on more staff to deal with all the extra work or employ “a massive volume of consultants” and keep it off the books.
She says: “Australian public servants might want to help them with their Churchillian WWII public ministry motto “keep calm and carry on.”
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