BACK TO THE OFFICE
The Somerset Guardian, 27th April 2022
Recently, I visited an office whose officials report to my department. In a room that could fit many, not a soul could be found.
When the national lockdown was announced in March 2020, my immediate challenge was to find a way of keeping Parliament running as a constitutional and democratic necessity. This meant embracing hybrid and virtual working and Parliament continued, albeit over Zoom.
What caused problems with the hybrid Parliament last year causes problems in the hybrid Whitehall today - ideas can be developed and small problems solved by a brief conversation in the corridor. Remote working does not allow for this.
As departments generally have 70 to 80 per cent of desks to employees, 50 per cent desk space usage is only 35 to 40 per cent attendance. This is a bad deal for taxpayers as expensive property which could be given up lies empty. Moreover, a London weighting is paid to people who are not working in London but are claiming they do not need to be there.
Of course, many civil servants worked hard during the pandemic and continue to do so. However, it would be naive to suggest there are no abuses from widespread home working in the public sector. The Times’ eye-opening investigations into the dishonesty at the DVLA was essential journalism. A public service, upon which so many depend, was stymied by people using the cover of working from home to refuse to do their jobs. I am still pleading with the DVLA for my constituents’ licences.
I am, therefore, determined that this Government grows the economy and reduces costs to families. The British people rightly have high expectations of the State. We need to create a smaller, high-performing, incentivised Civil Service, where talented officials thrive. In order to do that, we need to get back to the office.
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