PM backs drive to end WFH for civil servants – despite Cabinet split over ‘Dickensian’ campaign

PM backs drive to end WFH for civil servants – despite Cabinet split over ‘Dickensian’ campaign

Boris Johnson has given his backing to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s drive to get civil servants back to their Whitehall desks – despite a Cabinet row erupting over the ‘Dickensian’ campaign.

Mr Rees-Mogg, the Cabinet minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, is currently leading Government efforts to end home-working practices among officials after the Covid pandemic.

In his determination to fill Whitehall offices again, Mr Rees-Mogg was revealed to have been conducting personal headcounts of officials in some Government departments.

He has also left notices in offices for civil servants not at their desks, which read: ‘Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.’

Mr Rees-Mogg’s notes have been branded ‘supremely passive aggressive’ and ‘patronising’ by critics.

And his campaign to end work from home (WFH) for civil servants has also enraged some of his fellow Cabinet ministers.

The Times reported that Mr Rees-Mogg gave a presentation to Cabinet last week, which included a league table highlighting the departments where the fewest staff had returned to work.

According to the newspaper, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries voiced her objections to Mr Rees-Mogg’s campaign and said that the focus should be on civil servants’ productivity.

She told him that his letter to government departments brought to mind ‘images of burning tallow, rheumy eyes and Marley’s ghost (from A Christmas Carol)’.

Ms Dorries added: ‘There’s a whiff of something Dickensian about it. Why are we measuring bodies behind desks? Why aren’t we measuring productivity?’

Several other Cabinet ministers are also said to have reservations about the campaign to force civil servants back to their Whitehall desks.

Mr Rees-Mogg wouldn’t comment on the dispute, which was described as ‘good natured’ by one Government source.

In reference to Cabinet confidentiality rules, Mr Rees-Mogg told PA: ‘If it’s leaks from Cabinet, I’ll comment under the 30-year rule when we’re all a little bit older.’

Despite the concerns among other Cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister today offered strong backing for Mr Rees-Mogg’s efforts.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said Mr Rees-Mogg was seeking to ‘do everything possible to get the civil service to return to the pre-pandemic level’.

They added: ‘That is what he is seeking to do. That is supported by the Cabinet Secretary (Simon Case) and obviously the Prime Minister.’

Asked if the notes left on desks by Mr Rees-Mogg were helpful, the spokesman said the PM ‘supports any initiative that encourages people to return to pre-pandemic working’.

‘We are not talking about putting an end to flexible working, which continues to have a place in the modern workplace, we are talking about returning to pre-pandemic use of taxpayer-funded departmental buildings,’ they continued.

Conservative Party chair OIiver Dowden said yesterday that Mr Rees-Mogg’s efforts were ‘driven by getting the very best value for taxpayers’.

Asked about his notes for absent staff, Mr Rees-Mogg told GB News: ‘There’s certainly a place for working from home, it works in some instances.

‘But I know that people are having difficulties getting government services; getting driving licences from DVLA, there’s a delay with some passports.

‘We need people whose jobs are dependent on being in the office back in the office. The rest of the country is getting back to normal and I’m encouraging the civil service to do the same.’

Jacob Rees-Mogg pushes to get Whitehall officials back to offices

Mr Rees-Mogg also used a Mail on Sunday article to warn that officials may lose the London weighting on their pay or see their jobs moved elsewhere if they were not at their Whitehall desks.

‘Essentially, if people are not back in their office it will be fair to assume that the job does not need to be in London,’ he wrote.

‘Those who are at their desks every day seem to be younger, hard-working and ambitious civil servants, often renting house-shares in London for whom the office provides the right environment for work.

‘Meanwhile, others enjoy the fruits of their London-weighting at home in the shires.’

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