Ministers and senior officials lament efforts to stamp out homeworking

Written by Tevye Markson and Jim Dunton on 27 April 2022 in News
News

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s efforts to fill departmental offices have been criticised by an array of people

Credit: rawpixel.com/Pxhere

Government’s most senior civil servant has warned the prime minister that the latest flare-up of the government’s back-to-the-office drive is “unwise” and risks harming morale in Whitehall.

This caution, which is understood to have been conveyed by cabinet secretary Simon Case in a private conversation over the weekend with Boris Johnson, was focused on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s latest bids to increase office attendance among officials.

The government efficiency minister has left messages on empty departmental desks, questioned the entitlement of officials who work from home to receive London weighting payments, and raised the spectre of closing poorly attended workplaces.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries dubbed Rees-Mogg’s tactics “Dickensian” at the weekend and questioned the merits of focusing on presence in the office above productivity of remote and hybrid working.

“Why are we measuring bodies behind desks? Why aren’t we measuring productivity?” Dorries said, according to The Times.

In recent days, security staff have also reportedly been asked to use clickers to count civil servants entering government buildings. 


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Tech minister Chris Philp, who works under Dorries in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, also defended civil servants working from home, telling Times Radio “some measure of balance is important”.

Case’s warning to the PM, meanwhile, described “growing anger” in departments over what the head of the civil service described as Rees-Mogg’s “scare tactics”, according to the Guardian.

The newspaper said Case had told Johnson that Rees-Mogg’s notes and the language he was using against civil servants was going too far. However, the cab sec is understood to be “fully on board” with increased levels of face-to-face working, according to a No.10 source.

Yesteday, ex-justice minister Lord David Wolfson – who quit earlier this month over the PM’s conduct in the Partygate scandal – praised the calibre of his former staff at the Ministry of Justice.

He said while he did not want to weigh in on the merits of home or office working, he felt compelled to "underline the high quality of the civil service".

“Whether in policy groups or my private office, the civil servants I worked with were dedicated, diligent and hard working," he wrote on Twitter. “Of course, some were more gifted than others (no doubt that applies to ministers, too), but the overall standard was impressive. I was once advised (warned?) that my proposed policy was ‘novel’, though at least it wasn’t condemned as being ‘courageous’. But ‘yes, minister' usually meant ‘we’ll go away and get on with it, minister’.”

Wolfson added that he knew MoJ perm sec Antonia Romeo and the entire team at the department would work as hard for his successor as they had for him.

Separately, FDA general secretary Dave Penman warned that Rees-Mogg’s comments would only deter good people from joining the civil service at the same time as demotivating those already there.

He said said there was “no rationale” to the approach, as ministers were unable point to productivity losses linked to increased hybrid working in the civil service.

“Jacob Rees-Mogg is showing he simply does not understand how modern offices work,” he said.

 

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