Ministers are reportedly being told to order civil servants back to work as part of a drive to ensure taxpayer-funded offices are at “full capacity”.
Up to three quarters of staff are still working from home, according to The Telegraph, with officials who refuse to return to the office accused by Whitehall sources of failing to “pull their weight”.
The newspaper said that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for Government efficiency, has written to all secretaries of state saying they must send a “clear message” to civil servants to bring about a “rapid return” to face-to-face work.
He has also sent ministers a league table showing how many staff in each Government department were attending the office on an average day in the week staring April 4, it said.
In his letter, Mr Rees-Mogg reportedly wrote: “Now that we are learning to live with Covid and have lifted all legal restrictions in England, we must continue to accelerate the return of civil servants to office buildings to realize the benefits of face-to-face to-face, collaborative working and the wider benefits for the economy.
“To deliver this, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, and I, urge you to issue a clear message to civil servants in your department to ensure a rapid return to the office.
“[This] is subject to existing legal obligations, including but not limited to, equality and discrimination considerations and statutory rights to request flexible working arrangements.”
According to The Times, a Whitehall audit revealed roughly 80% of Government departments were operating with less than half of all desks in use, while 36% were running at two thirds of normal levels.
Prior to the Covid crisis, average staff occupancy across the estate stood at around 80%, it said.
The Telegraph cited a Whitehall source as saying “a silent majority” of officials “aren’t pulling their weight”.
“British people have very high standards of Government, not just ministers but people working on their behalf,” they reportedly said.
“The whole of the country is getting back to normal, this feels out of step with the rest of the country – who, after all, pay for the existence of the civil service – who have been back in their office working [hard] for quite awhile now.
“There is another side of it – it feels that in some cases it is a minority of really hard-working officials who are in the office all the time, and a silent majority of people aren’t pulling their weight.
“The pandemic shouldn’t be an excuse for a new normal. Government departments were full all the time beforehand and we shouldn’t use the pandemic as an excuse to change that.”
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, was quoted in The Times as claiming Mr Rees-Mogg is less interested in “productivity or delivery” than spending time “counting civil servants in and out of buildings”.
A Government spokesperson said: “Ministers have been clear that departments should make maximum use of office space and progress is being monitored.”