Northern Ireland

Brexit: 85 unfilled roles at DAERA present 'serious risk'

Parliament and flags Image copyright Reuters
Image caption DAERA will have an important role after the UK leaves the EU

The Northern Ireland department most exposed to Brexit has said it cannot recruit the staff it needs and the shortfall presents a "serious risk".

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) issued the warning in its annual report.

It said 85 Brexit roles remained unfilled even after 90 workers were redeployed to Brexit duties.

It is now considering postponing or reducing some work.

That would allow staff to concentrate on "urgent" Brexit business.

DAERA said it had advertised the jobs across the Northern Ireland Civil Service but the trawl had not produced enough recruits.

"It is obvious that in these unprecedented circumstances the usual measures will not address all our needs and a significant shortfall, especially in relation to professional and technical roles, remains a serious risk," it added.

"So far we have redeployed 90 staff from business as usual posts into Brexit but despite the great amount of flexibility and willingness shown by staff, redeployment is no longer a viable option."

It said it had managed to fill 123 Brexit-specific posts and that after the UK leaves the EU it was going to need a lot more staff to cope with the extra workload.

'Lack of clarity'

DAERA employs about 3,000 staff across a broad range of functions to do with farming and the environment.

It will have an important role after Brexit and will be responsible for things like food certification, plant health and environmental governance.

DAERA has set up a new division dealing with contingency planning for a no-deal exit.

Image caption DAERA employs staff across a broad range of functions connected to farming and the environment

It said the work of that unit had continued despite a "lack of clarity" on a range of issues.

It described that "uncertainty" as one of a number of "significant challenges", including meeting the demands of Brexit work in very tight timescales with limited staff.

A DAERA spokeswoman said: "The scale of our preparations to be operationally ready for Brexit has had a huge impact on the department and it is inevitable that we will face future challenges as indicated in our annual report.

"However, in order to respond, we are prioritising our resources and seeking to recruit new staff to meet those challenges.

"In the meantime, our dedicated staff continue to manage the pressures of maintaining normal business for all our customers."

This week, the BBC reported that in June 2018 DAERA had limited sight of critical Brexit information coming from Whitehall, ahead of the original exit date of March 2019.

In his 2019 annual report, permanent secretary Denis McMahon said Brexit had a "huge impact" on his department in the past year.

A large amount of work had been done to prepare legislation, policy frameworks and to get ready for exit day, he said.

There has been a big focus on making sure any transition is as smooth as possible and work on cross-border trade has also been a key part of that preparation.

The focus on Brexit has meant other departmental priorities have had to be stalled, including work on marine protection and air quality.

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