‘Maybe I was at a Downing Street party’: GGF readers respond to Rees-Mogg’s back-to-the-office note

By on 26/04/2022 | Updated on 27/04/2022
A working from home video call
Photo: Pixabay

Global Government Forum readers have reacted with fury to UK minister Jacob Rees-Mogg’s decision to leave notes at the desks of civil servants who are working remotely saying “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon”.

Rees-Mogg has been criticised for the notes, which he said were left “after a tip-off from a fellow minister” that some central London government offices were empty. Civil service trade unions have called the notes “the most crass, condescending act… seen from a minister”, while the head of the civil service Simon Case has reportedly warned prime minister Boris Johnson against forcing government workers back to the office.

Responding to GGF’s report that UK government ministers were squabbling over officials working from home, one reader said his response to any Rees-Mogg missive would refer to the infamous breaches of lockdown, for which the prime minister, chancellor and some senior officials have been fined.

“My reply to Rees-Mogg’s note, should one ever be left on my desk, would be a simple apology for my absence which was due to me being invited to a party at Number 10,” they said.

Read more: ‘Why are we measuring bodies behind desks?’ UK government ministers squabble over ‘Dickensian’ war on officials working from home

Another commentator, Hybridalltheway, said that hybrid working “has been much better in my experience”.

They added: “Sickness absence has generally been far lower (in my organisation anyway) from those who can work from home than when staff had to come into the office. Staff with COVID but no symptoms for example still able to work whereas if they were “forced” by the likes of Mogg to attend would report sick leave.”

Culture of presenteeism

Another commentor, Ada, said that a culture of ‘presenteeism’ was building within some civil service departments, even though “it has been demonstrated throughout the pandemic that people are more than capable of doing their jobs and remaining productive (more so in some cases) when working from home”.

“The CS [civil service] says how important it is to move and change with the times and reflect society but struggle to do this in practice,” they added. “Two large CS departments near to where I work still have their staff working from home and only go into the office when required and have even rented out some of their office space to local businesses to use as they have determined that they no longer need the huge office space as working from home or hybrid working is working far better. Why keep paying out huge amounts of money on estates when it isn’t needed?

“I am not customer facing in my role yet have been told to be in the office full-time despite that before the pandemic, I didn’t spend all my time in the office… This seems to be more about ‘bums on seats’ and making the office look busy.”

Read more: UK renews push to end working from home for civil servants – as Ireland signs up to 20% remote working

The commenter said there “seems to be a lack of trust by leaders in their staff, to do their jobs from home”, adding: “If there is one thing that has been proven throughout the pandemic it is that many businesses have had to think differently and diversify and have demonstrated this successfully – the CS have no excuses not to be able to do the same.”

The comments come amid reports that UK cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Simon Case had privately warned Johnson against Rees-Mogg’s approach.

According to the Guardian, Case told the prime minister over the weekend that Rees-Mogg’s strategy was unwise. The paper also said that at least four permanent secretaries – the top civil servants in government departments – had also raised concerns about the current approach.

Asked if Johnson backed Rees-Mogg’s policy of leaving calling cards at vacant desks, a government official told the Guardian: “What the minister is seeking to achieve is to do everything possible to get the civil service to return to the pre-pandemic level… That is supported by the cabinet secretary and obviously the prime minister.”

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

2 Comments

  1. Alan says:

    I am one of those who has not been at my desk for the last 2 weeks, mainly because I managed to avoid COVID until I returned to the office where within weeks I caught COVID and had to stay home. Shame I was not there to pass COVID onto him during his visit.

  2. RadicalGovernmentefficiency says:

    I’m ashamed that this issue is causing more ruckus than the very real reality that we will soon lose 1 in 4 species as we’re on the brink of an extinction crises.

    I’d recommend Government Ministers spend more time working on practical solutions to these problems – perhaps by turning the majority of London Government buildings into areas for biodiversity, City farms where staff cam spend one day a week collaborating on something bigger than themselves

    Or perhaps we could protect the green land we have and actually repurpose the Government estate into actual homes for people yo solve the apparent housing crisis- dare I say it we could even repurpose empty retail units and second homes as well.

    This might a bit too controversial though, far better to keep destroying the biodiversity habitats we have and remaining in the bottom 10% global. Much better for Government efficiency that we have well-crafted briefing documents rather than policies and national changes to make significant differences to people struggling to feed their children or protect the animal species we share this country with

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