PM says she will not impose ‘blanket rule’ on government officials
Liz Truss has ruled out introducing a “blanket rule” for government departments to force civil servants back to offices.
The prime minister said the government is working on driving up officials’ office attendance but added that homeworking sometimes “makes sense”.
“We do want to see more people in Whitehall, back in the office,” she said. “That is being worked on. I think it is important that people do come back into work. But ultimately it is a matter for businesses how they want to run their businesses, and it is a matter for people to make their own decisions.”
Asked by ITV why she does not “just order them back”, Truss said: “I think it is important for people to be in the office but there are some circumstances where working from home makes sense so I wouldn’t approve of a blanket rule.”
Civil servants attendance at departmental headquarters currently ranges at between 40-80% of capacity, according to the latest statistics from 19-23 September.
Ministers have regularly urged departments to increase office attendance since Covid-19 regulations ended.
New business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg was one of the most vociferous opponents of home working in his previous role as government efficiency minister, urging departments to order civil servants back to offices and leaving notes on officials’ desks that said “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon”.
He also ordered departments to measure attendance rates at department headquarters, which have been published regularly on GOV.UK since June.
Rees-Mogg’s efforts were supported by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, who said in May that home working “doesn’t work”.
Truss, Johnson’s successor, said during the Conservative Party leadership campaign: “I support the work Jacob Rees-Mogg has been doing… and I will be looking at that very carefully”.
However, the PM has also expressed support for flexible working in the past, telling MPs last year that it “doesn’t just help women, it helps people who don’t live in major metropolitan areas”.
Truss’s former department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has regularly had some of the lowest attendance figures in Whitehall since occupancy data was published. The latest occupancy rate of FCDO HQ King Charles Street was 41%, which is 15 percentage points lower than any other department.
Truss also confirmed yesterday that she plans to go ahead with the 2019 Tory manifesto pledge to introduce legislation ensuring minimum service level requirements are met during rail strikes. She said legislation would be brought forward “as soon as possible… to make sure those essential services are provided”.