Civil servants could see 80% return to office by end of month


A man walks past the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in London’s Whitehall
Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Ministers are pushing for central government employees to return to offices as soon as possible, according to a letter seen by the BBC.

The letter says the government is “strongly encouraging” attendance through rota systems, with a view towards 80% of civil servants able to go to their usual Whitehall office at least once a week by the end of September. This would be “hugely beneficial”, it claims.

The recommendations apply to staff in England, with staff in devolved nations expected to follow local guidance and work from home.

The move comes after criticism of government messaging focusing on a widespread return to the office when the majority of civil servants continue to work from home.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week showed a decline in people working exclusively from home, and that 57% of working adults were travelling to work – the highest point since coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.

Railway services have also begun to run at 90% of pre-pandemic levels as numbers of commuters increase, according to the Rail Delivery Group. The number of passengers each carriage can accommodate has had to halve due to social distancing, however.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC Andrew Marr show at the weekend that “the economy needs to have people back at work” so the country could “bounce back as strongly as possible”.

“It is important to send a message that we need to get Britain back up and running, the economy motoring on all cylinders,” he said, conceding that the return to offices could happen in incremental stages.

Unions criticised the government’s eagerness to get civil servants and other workers back to the office, claiming it puts employees’ safety at risk.

Dave Penman, general secretary of public sector union FDA, said the Prime Minister was on a “fool’s errand” to think staff would flock back to offices, claiming the pandemic has sparked an “industrial revolution” of home working.

He said: “Over the last six months, the civil service has had to transform its priorities.

“It had to deal with a six-fold increase in Universal Credit, develop a furlough scheme for nine million workers — all while it was 95 per cent home-based.

“This idea that the government is going to lecture the private sector about what’s good for it, and virtue signal with the civil service, is a fool’s errand.”

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