Plan to bring civil servants back to the office ‘a waste of time’



The leader of a union representing senior civil servants has branded the government’s attempts at bringing staff back to Whitehall ‘a waste of time and goodwill’.

Earlier this month the government said it was “strongly encouraging” civil servants to return to the office, amid reports that town and city centres were turning into “ghost towns”, and set civil service leaders the target of bringing 80% of employees back to the office at least once a week before the end of the month.

However, in light of rising Covid-19 infections, the government reverted back to its previous “work from home if you can” advice earlier this week.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union – which represents civil service management – accused the government of putting “political pressure” on itself by telling the media that civil servants were “reluctant” to return to their offices and then trying to be seen to rectify this.

He said civil service leaders had done an “amazing job” earlier this year at transforming its workforce from being 95% office-based to 95% home-based in three weeks, and had been told to reverse this in the same timeframe.

“Well, that’s going to hit productivity, [and] the important things that government needs to be doing,” he told the BBC.

“And now we’re back to where we were in the first place. At the same time you have civil servants being called lazy. It’s all been such a waste of time and goodwill.

“Ministers got themselves into a tizzy and ended up with this target of 80%. Then they committed to a timeframe. They didn’t think it through.”

Official guidance states that civil servants in “essential” services should continue to work from their Covid-secure workplace, and adds that permanent secretaries “know their departments best” and should decide who should be in the office.

The Cabinet Office has not commented on Penman’s remarks.

Meanwhile, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the tech giant is planning for a reality where most of its staff never return to the office full time. Sixty-two per cent of Google staff had expressed an interest in returning to the workplace only on a part-time basis.

Pichai told Time magazine: “I see the future as being more flexible. We firmly believe that being in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new, so we don’t see that changing. But we do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models.”

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