Jacob Rees-Mogg has demanded that cabinet ministers do more to get their civil servants back to the office after the vast majority of Whitehall departments were found still to be operating at less than half of their normal capacity.
The minister for government efficiency has told colleagues to monitor staff attendance fortnightly, warning: “We have significant progress to make.”
An audit conducted across Whitehall shows that calls by ministers for civil servants to return to the office have gone largely unheeded almost three months after work-from-home guidance was lifted.
About 80 per cent of government departments were found to be operating with less than half of all desks in use and 36 per cent were operating at two thirds of normal levels. Before the pandemic average staff occupancy across Whitehall was about 80 per cent. Rees-Mogg has written to all senior ministers demanding that they issue “a clear message” to officials in their departments, telling them that they expect a “rapid” return to the office.
A league table attached to the letter reveals the departments with the fewest staff coming to their London offices as a percentage of total office space. The least occupied is the Department for Education, operating at 25 per cent capacity. The Department for Work and Pensions is running at 27 per cent and HM Revenue & Customs at 33 per cent capacity.
The most occupied department was international trade, where 73 per cent of desks were taken up. The Department of Health and Social Care was on 72 per cent and the Ministry of Defence on 67 per cent. The average use of desk space across the government’s Whitehall estate was about 45 per cent. Ministers said that they did not have reliable data for staff outside the capital. The Foreign Office is operating at 31 per cent capacity and the Home Office at 42 per cent.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, accused Rees-Mogg of being less interested in “productivity or delivery” than spending time “counting civil servants in and out of buildings”.