FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is seen in London, Britain April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
The headquarters of the European Medicines Agency at London's Canary Wharf © Reuters

The European drugs regulator has issued a multimillion pound tender for temporary workers, acknowledging that it may lose staff when it is forced to leave London after Brexit.

Based at Canary Wharf, the European Medicines Agency carries out assessments and issues approvals of drugs that cover all 28 member states. However, when Britain leaves the EU it will move to one of 19 remaining member states that are bidding to host it.

The EMA said it had published the tender notice, worth almost £32m, because its existing framework contract for recruiting interim staff would shortly expire. It routinely recruited interim staff in this way “to make up for short-term spikes in workload in certain areas or to replace staff on long-term leave”, it said.

However, it acknowledged that, looking ahead, the EMA “will also be using the framework contract to make up short-term for some staff losses expected to occur in the course of its relocation”.

Signs that key staff are heading for the exit have been visible for some time. In an interview at the start of the year, Guido Rasi, head of the EMA, said that seven senior executives had quit the agency since the referendum, more than in the past decade put together.

Categories of staff named in the tender range from administrative, accounting and audit staff, to those with scientific, regulatory, legal and policy expertise. Applicants are expected to be bi- or multi-lingual, it makes clear.

Gus Tugendhat, head of Tussell, a company that compiles data on public procurement, said this was “easily the EMA’s biggest published tender in over four years”.

It was equivalent to almost 40 per cent of the total value of tenders published by the EMA since August 2013, he added.

Mr Tugendhat suggested that the need for temporary staff could be “driven by higher than normal staff turnover caused by the uncertainty about where and when the EMA will move out of London as a result of Brexit”.

Insiders say morale is low given the continuing uncertainty over which country will secure the agency and the potential dislocation involved for staff, spouses and families.

A staff survey published last week showed that eight of the potential locations were backed by less than 30 per cent of staff. The agency said that falling below that level “would mean that the agency is no longer able to function and, as there is no back-up, this would have important consequences for public health in the EU”.

The “best-case scenario” was that the EMA could keep up to 81 per cent of its workforce. Although the agency did not name the cities involved, it has subsequently emerged that Amsterdam topped the table. The locations that fell below the 30 per cent line were Athens, Malta, Helsinki, Zagreb, Warsaw, Bucharest, Sofia and Bratislava.

The EMA’s Canary Wharf headquarters has an 890-strong secretariat. In addition, 36,000 national regulators and scientists each year converge on London to make judgments about the safety and efficacy of drugs.

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