Ongoing homeworking will erode government skills, minister claims

Kit Malthouse tells podcast that he believes officials ought to spend three or four days a week in the office

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Too much remote working could dent civil servants’ skills and ultimately damage public services, Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse has said.

The number of civil servants working from home is a “problem”, Malthouse said – but his comments to Chopper’s Politics Podcast showed a greater acceptance of hybrid working than his colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg.

While the government efficiency minister has shown little tolerance for officials spending any time out of the office – interpreting half-empty buildings as evidence that people are not coming into the office at all – Malthouse said he wanted them to spend at least three days a week with their co-workers.

But asked by podcast host Christopher Hope, the Daily Telegraph’s associate editor, if civil servants working from home could damage the delivery of public services, he said: “Over time, it will because they won’t be as skilled. My personal view is I would think it would be a bit odd if you weren’t spending three to four days a week in the office.”

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The Cabinet Office minister, who stepped into the role following a wave of resignations that ultimately toppled prime minister Boris Johnson earlier this month, said he was especially concerned about younger staff working from home.

“There’s a critical issue I think, at the heart of this that we have to face, and that is our obligation to young people,” he said. “Young people cannot learn remotely if they’re sitting in their bedroom, in their little flats as a junior civil servant, they do not pick up the nuance, the skills, the informal mentoring that more senior officials and indeed politicians can provide.”

He added: “Young people need to see a variety of senior people and to learn from a variety of people and they need to encounter you. And to be perfectly honest with you, young people found it very soul-destroying being stuck at home – it was quite depressing.”

High-profile attacks on civil service work-from-home arrangements have lessened in recent months, but Malthouse’s comments demonstrate pressure remains on departments to ensure staff are spending a minimum proportion of their time in offices.


Sam Trendall

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