Boris Johnson seeks to end working from home culture and get employees back in the office

Boris Johnson seeks to end working from home culture and get employees back in the office

Boris Johnson today began a personal battle to get millions of Britons back to the office full time as he declared working from home just doesn’t work.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, published on our new premium sister website The Mail+, the Prime Minister issued a rallying cry to businesses to help boost post-pandemic productivity and revitalise the UK’s town and city centres.

Mr Johnson even admitted that his own struggles with working from home – including ‘forgetting what it was you’re doing’ when you go to the fridge or struggling with Zoom calls – convinced him that Britain’s workforce is better off out of their spare rooms or kitchens and back at their desks.

He said: ‘We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office. I believe people are more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas, when they are surrounded by other people.

‘My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee, and then you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing’.

It came as Mr Johnson revealed plans to cut 91,000 civil servant jobs and use the £3.5billion to help pay for tax cuts to ease the cost of living crisis. Today Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that union pressure to allow working from home as standard will drive investment out of the UK.

Union leaders threatened a mass walkout of civil servants today as they reacted with fury to Boris Johnson’s plans to cull almost a fifth of all Whitehall jobs.

The Prime Minister announced plans to axe up to 91,000 jobs over the next three years to save £3.5billion and give his under-pressure Government space for a pre-election tax cut for struggling families.

He used a ‘cost of living’ Cabinet meeting in the Midlands yesterday to order his top team to find ways to cut the headcount in all departments of Whitehall within a month, saying the Civil Service had become ‘swollen’ during the pandemic.

Mark Serwotka, head of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), said it would hold an emergency meeting of its executive committee next week, saying: ‘Our members will not be the scapegoats for a failing Government. We have our conference in 10 days’ time. Taking national strike action is very much on the table.’

Mr Johnson also faced opposition from his critics within the Conservative Party. Former minister Tobias Ellwood accused ministers of setting up a ‘Dead Cat Committee in No.10 spewing out a regular drumbeat of sensationalist headlines’.

‘It’s not about numbers, but outputs and productivity – the engine driving wider inspirational policy objectives that thematically sit together as a vision,’ he tweeted.

But Jacob Rees-Mogg said the PM’s decision to axe 91,000 posts within three years would simply take Whitehall numbers back to their pre 2016 levels, after they were swollen by the EU departure and Covid.

From L to R: Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak during a regional cabinet meeting at Middleport Pottery in Stoke on Trent on Thursday

Mr Rees-Mogg used a media round of interviews to defend the move and vow to move even faster within his own Cabinet Office department

He told Sky News: ‘I know it sounds eye-catching but it’s just getting back to the civil service we had in 2016… since then we’ve had to take on people for specific tasks.

‘So dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with Covid, so there’s been a reason for that increase, but we’re now trying to get back to normal.’

Mr Johnson last night told the Daily Mail: ‘We have got to cut the cost of government to reduce the cost of living.’

And he suggested the billions saved could be ploughed into tax cuts, saying: ‘Every pound the Government pre-empts from the taxpayer is money they can spend on their own priorities, on their own lives.’

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for civil and public service workers, accused the Government of ‘picking a number out of the air’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that part of civil servants’ jobs was to look at efficiency.

‘They’ve already committed to 5 per cent cuts in their budgets as part of the spending review,’ he said.

‘That kind of ongoing efficiency is what the civil service does all the time. But if you’re going to just simply pluck a figure out of the air and say it’s now 90,000 because there’s a convenient point in time where we liked the number, that’s not a serious way to look at what does a government want to do and how can it deliver that in the most effective and efficient way.’

The PM’s chief of staff, Steve Barclay, is also investigating plans to use new technology, including artificial intelligence systems, to improve efficiency at struggling agencies such as the Passport Office and DVLA.

Mr Johnson said the public ‘deserve better’ from organisations which have allowed huge backlogs to build up.

And he remains convinced of the need to get more officials back at their desks, adding: ‘We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office, getting into the workplace.

‘There will be lots of people who disagree with me, but I believe people are more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas, when they are surrounded by other people.’

But the PM said technology also had a major role to play in improving efficiency – and potentially cutting the cost of official documents such as passports. ‘I’m not antediluvian about technology,’ he said.

‘Things like Zoom and Teams can increase productivity, rather than just be an excuse for people to stay at home.

‘We should be asking ourselves, why does it cost so much for a passport? Often it’s because the cost has been jacked up over the years to support the cost of the organisation providing them.

‘What is the chief driver of those costs? Headcount. If we can do more with AI… potentially it could be cheaper.’

The move will put ministers on a collision course with the powerful Civil Service unions, which are already complaining bitterly about a Government drive to persuade thousands of staff to return to their desks after the pandemic.

There were fresh calls yesterday for Rishi Sunak to cut taxes after official figures showed that the economy unexpectedly shrank by 0.1 per cent in March – even before the latest round of energy price hikes last month.

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