The Department for Transport needs to “scramble” to prepare for Brexit, the head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, has warned.
An NAO report into the DfT’s preparations for Brexit warns that there is an increasing risk that Brexit related projects will not be delivered on time in the event that no Brexit deal is agreed.
And it calls on the department to prioritise its plans and rapidly strengthen its capacity to oversee the full range of its activities, including determining whether it has the right people and resources to deliver everything it needs to by March 2019.
The report highlights the scale of the challenge with18 EU related work streams, spanning aviation, roads, maritime, vehicles, and rail.
It said the government has advised all departments to continue planning in case negotiations are not agreed and to have fully planned contingencies in place by March 2019. However, in the case of the department for transport, the NAO’s report has found that these plans are not complete and there is an increasing risk that projects will not be delivered on time.
The department needs to have primary and secondary legislation passed by March 2019. In February 2018, the department introduced a primary legislation bill to provide powers intended to address a range of scenarios, including contingency planning and cover drivers’ rights such as enabling a permit scheme and a trailer registration scheme. This was an important milestone for the department but it still has to process a large volume of secondary legislation, for which the time available is being compressed.
The Department estimates, along with its arm’s-length bodies, that it will spend £180 million on EU exit by March 2022. In 2017-18 the Department spent £3.1 million of the £5.6 million allocated to it by HM Treasury for exit work.
Morse said: “These are extraordinary times for the civil service and government. The Department has achieved a great deal in its preparations but over the coming months it will, like many other departments, need to scramble to prepare for the UK’s EU exit, particularly if we are faced with a no deal scenario.”
Responding to the report, Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, said: “DfT faces a huge challenge in delivering its responsibilities as part of Brexit, with 18 new EU work streams alongside huge priorities such as rail franchising, Heathrow expansion and High Speed 2.
“It is worrying that DfT paints a rosier picture to DExEU about progress on its EU work but internally acknowledges the risks to delivery. DfT must be open about the challenges it faces as a department as it prepares for Brexit.”
* The European Commission has produced its “no-deal” scenario ahead of a meeting today with the UK’s new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab. According to the BBC which has seen a draft of the paper highlights the immediate impact of customs checks on goods at borders, and it predicts the aviation industry could be severely disrupted.