Millions of pounds added to Foreign Office wage bill after Brexit vote

Written by Kevin Schofield and Tamsin Rutter on 1 November 2017 in News
News

Foreign Office insists higher wage bill reflects an increase in staff numbers as well as the impact of currency fluctuation

Photo: PA

Brexit has added millions of pounds to the Foreign Office wage bill due to the fall in the value of the Pound, campaigners have claimed.

Figures released under Freedom of Information and passed to CSW’s sister site PoliticsHome show that the cost of employing UK government staff in Eurozone countries has jumped from £29m in 2015/16 to £33.6m in 2016/17.

The data was uncovered by the Best for Britain campaign group, which wants the UK to stay in the European Union.


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They blamed the value of the Pound, which has slumped from 1.37 euros in 2015 to 1.22 in 2016, for the increased cost to British taxpayers.

Best for Britain chief executive Eloise Todd said: "This increase in just one part of the costs of government is only the tip of the iceberg, though. Brexit is putting up prices in the shops, increasing taxes through higher VAT receipts, discouraging investment in new jobs and skills and threatening hopes of any lasting economic recovery."

But a Foreign Office spokesman said the higher wage bill was because of an increase in staff numbers, and Boris Johnson confirmed to MPs yesterday that the Foreign Office has created 50 new diplomatic posts in capital cities across Europe.

The foreign secretary told MPs the UK was “beefing up” its representation across Europe ahead of Britain's EU exit, while his permanent secretary confirmed that some of the new diplomats were already in post.

Johnson was speaking on Wednesday to select committee members who criticised his lack of substance, ahead of a report alleging that he was disliked by civil servants in the Foreign Office and intelligence staff are “wary of sharing sensitive information with him”. 

“We are beefing up our representation bilaterally in other EU countries,” said Johnson during a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday. 

“In the past… we tended to put all our eggs in the Brussels basket and we tended to think that a lot of bilateral diplomacy, particularly with very important partners such as France and Germany, could be conducted through that prism.”

Simon McDonald, permanent secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, confirmed that the 50 new posts would be based in European capitals.

“The posts have all been identified, recruitment has happened for some but not all, the first wave are in post already,” he said. 

Asked whether the FCO needed to hire more UK-based staff – following concerns about understaffing raised on Tuesday by Lord Ricketts, former head of the diplomatic service – Johnson insisted that the department’s investment in 50 new diplomats was sufficient.

“50 is what we’re doing, I think that’s a good increase, and we’re very confident in the abilities of our officials,” he said. 

He could not confirm how much the extra staff would cost, but offered a potential figure of £8m.

MPs on the select committee sparred with Johnson throughout the hearing, with chair Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative MP tipped for future party leadership, accusing the foreign secretary of reading from written statements given to him by his permanent secretary. 

“Can we perhaps move away from the written statement that was written for you?” Tugendhat quipped, after a particularly lengthy opening answer from Johnson.

Meanwhile, a report in the New Statesman claims that Britain’s intelligence services don’t trust Johnson, and his Foreign Office officials are unhappy working with him.

“The intelligence services are believed to be wary of sharing sensitive information with him, and on occasion relations with his instinctively Europhile civil servants have been strained,” said the report.

About the author

Kevin Schofield is editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @PolhomeEditor.

Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World and tweets as @TamsinRutter

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