UK regulators not ready to benefit from Brexit freedoms due to staff shortages, report finds

Wed 18 May 2022
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

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Three key UK regulators are struggling to recruit and train enough staff to implement their expanded post-Brexit roles.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) names the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as among those experiencing difficulties.

The report comes ahead of the government’s planned ‘Brexit freedoms bill’ in which the government hopes to diverge from EU standards and rules.

Strategies needed

The three bodies are struggling to recruit candidates for roles including lawyers, vets and toxicologists as they look to build capacity following the UK’s departure from the EU, the FT reports.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said Brexit has had a major impact on many UK regulators who needed to recruit the right specialist skills to overcome its challenges.

“It is essential that regulators and policy makers develop their future strategies as soon as possible to avoid wasting effort on short-term work and to ensure the decisions they make now meet their longer-term goals,” he said.

Additional roles

All three regulators have additional roles following Brexit.

HSE is now the main regulator for chemicals in the UK and the FSA has additional responsibility for assessing food and animal feed safety risks.

The CMA has established the Office for the Internal Market and is setting up a unit to provide advice to public bodies on state subsidies.

Four years needed

Bloomberg reports that the CMA had a vacancy rate of 25% for legal roles in March 2022. Both the FSA and HSE are struggling with a shortage of toxicologists.

Shortages could delay regulatory decisions, the report said.

The HSE has estimated it would take “a further four years” to put enough staff in place to ensure it can deliver its post-Brexit regulatory functions.

Data deficit

As well as a shortage of staff, the NAO notes that regulators have also suffered from losing access to data and information sharing arrangements with EU regulators.

The NAO also said there has been limited progress on regulatory co-operation with the EU following Brexit.

The UK has stated that it is ready to progress co-operation on both chemicals regulation and competition enforcement, but discussions have not yet begun with the EU.


Regulators should review the plans they developed before Brexit now that there is greater clarity about their capacity and their workload, the NAO recommends.

They should test the realism of their plans and assess if they can increase the effectiveness of their work and find efficiencies, providing clarity to stakeholders on their direction of travel and timelines for change.

LGA warnings

Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer Stronger Communities Board, Nesil Caliskan, said the NAO report mirrors warnings the LGA made during and after the pandemic about the lack of professional capacity in key professions such as environmental health and trading standards.

“With the expansion of capacity needed in national regulators, there is an increased risk that council’s regulatory services, which are already stretched, will be damaged further as the local professional workforce is recruited into national roles,” she said.

“It is therefore essential that the government ensures the right resources and support is supplied to train up next generation of officers across the full regulatory system, to protect the future of these important roles,” she added.