Union anger as Boris Johnson orders WFH officers to fill every desk like pre-Covid

Despite promising more flexible working just months ago, Boris Johnson now wants every desk in Whitehall to be filled every day as the UK ‘learns to live’ with Covid.

Boris Johnson has called for public services to return to
Boris Johnson has called for public services to return to “full occupancy” as they were before Covid

The civil servants’ union reacted with anger today as Boris Johnson issued an edict requiring them to ‘fully staff’ their offices again – just as they were pre-Covid.

The prime minister and his “efficiency” minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, made the call — just months after plans to make it easier for staff to request flexible working hours.

Tory ministers pledged in September to “make flexible working the norm” and allow workers to demand it from day one in a job – rather than in the current six months.

Businesses will have fewer opportunities to refuse applications and will need to respond faster than the current three-month deadline through consultation.

But Mr Rees-Mogg has now cracked down on those who are still working from home in Whitehall, naming and shaming those whose most staff are out of the office.

The Department of Education had 25% of staff in the office every day, the Department for Work and Pensions 27% and the Foreign Office 31%, according to figures given to the Daily Telegraph.

The Department of Trade and Industry had 73%, the Department of Health 72% and the Cabinet Office 69%.

The Prime Minister and his “Efficiency” Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg called for the officers to return to Whitehall



A Whitehall source told The Sun Health Secretary Sajid Javid had considered scrapping London’s pay weighting for civil servants who don’t step in, but dropped the idea.

The move was branded “vindictive” by Dave Penman, the FDA’s secretary general, who represents senior officials, who said the ministers were not consistent with private sector practice.

But that approach was backed by Boris Johnson at a cabinet meeting today, where he urged ministers to go further.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Cabinet has been updated by the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency on figures showing the proportion of civil servants working in the departments.

“He said there are clear benefits to working face-to-face for both staff and the public and that it is important for all departments to take action to return to the pre-pandemic position of full occupancy.

“The Prime Minister agreed and encouraged ministers and their departments to do whatever they can to expedite the return of more civil servants to office.”

The comments enraged Mr Penman, who accused ministers of behaving like “luddites”, while the private sector welcomed the benefits of flexible working.

“There is no justification for this. Ministers can’t show any loss of productivity, so it’s always anonymous sources that make the insulting allegations,” he said.

“Ministers’ obsession with ending flexible working and micromanaging the public service is looking increasingly unforgiving.

“Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Minister for Government Efficiency but that is not even reflected in his correspondence with Ministers.

“The private sector has embraced hybrid work, recognizing the efficiencies and competitive advantage it brings to employers in a tight labor market.

“Meanwhile, the Luddites in the Cabinet insist on micromanaging the civil service, which will discourage only good people from joining, while demotivating those who are already there.”

Mr Rees-Mogg was backed by Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis, who said it was “a very good thing” for people to be back in the workplace.

“There’s something different about that face-to-face interaction,” he told Times Radio. “Actually, that doesn’t work in a virtual world.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We recognize that flexible working hours and condensed working hours will remain an integral part of modern work… but the function of the way the civil service is set up is that there are more civil servants than desks. It doesn’t have to be that everyone works every day.”

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