UK minister for government efficiency demands probe into ‘culture of wastefulness’ in Whitehall

By on 10/08/2022 | Updated on 10/08/2022
A portrait of UK government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg
Photo Chris McAndrew reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the UK’s minister for government efficiency, has ordered a review of work arrangements in Whitehall that allow civil servants to work irregular hours of their choosing, known as ‘flexitime’.

Flexitime hours currently mean that many government officials decide when they start and finish work, as long as they reach the minimum of 37.5 working hours per week.

Rees-Mogg said this, along with civil servants’ resistance to returning to the office, has produced a “culture of wastefulness” in Whitehall.

Read more: UK Treasury staff warned security passes being used to check who’s at their desk

“While we need some flexibility, I am concerned that too much flexitime will keep civil servants from the office and from doing their best work.”

He added: “Working around others… will mean more job satisfaction for civil servants. That is why I am asking the Cabinet Office to report on the extent of flexitime and asking secretaries of state to do the same in their departments.”

Responding to the announcement of the review, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, said that flexible working gave civil servants “one of the few advantages… in a competitive employment market”. He added: “If ministers want to attract and retain the best talent, needed to address the challenges the country faces, then they need to stop pandering to those peddling this nonsense.”

Criticisms of the flexitime work model follow reports by British newspaper The Telegraph that civil servants are using the option to take long visits to the gym during workdays and take Fridays off without managerial oversight.

One civil servant told the paper: “I live for the civil service flexitime contract, which means that instead of my life revolving around work, work revolves around my life.”

According to the Cabinet Office, the majority of civil servants do not work flexitime hours. It said the purpose of the working arrangement is to make government an attractive employer for people “who may have caring responsibilities or disabilities”.

Point of no return?

In January, UK government departments were told to quicken officials’ return to the office after COVID-19 regulations on working from home were eased.

Steve Barclay, who was then minister for the Cabinet Office, said at the time that the civil service must “lead the way” in a return to pre-pandemic working arrangements. The Cabinet Office added that civil servants who resumed shared workspaces would bring instant economic benefits by stimulating local businesses.

Read more: UK renews push to end working from home for civil servants

Three months later Rees-Mogg faced backlash for leaving signed notes on civil servants’ empty desks which read: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon”. Penman called the move “crass and insulting”.

“[The notes] completely undermine the leadership of the service,” he said.

Rees-Mogg has since renewed the push to end working from home for civil servants by writing to UK cabinet ministers, urging them to get more of their staff into offices.

Trade unions have resisted the plea for officials to return to workplaces, arguing that the government failed to factor in fundamental changes in the economy.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. Kelly White says:

    Whilst I’m not actually classed a civil servant the organisation I work for falls under DEFRA so we are subjected to the same conditions, that’s until it comes to the pay structure and pensions. We have flexi time, compressed hours, and most of the office staff still work from home. And in doing so provide the organisation with a good service with many hours going unpaid. What we are bombarded with is the organisation needing to meet the Net Zero. This approach from Rees-Mogg shows that the government is only interested in reducing the carbon emissions that will be calculated into their own Net Zero statistics. This does not include the return trip to the office and home as this falls under personal mileage. This is evidence that the government is insincere when it talks about a commitment to actually reduce carbon emissions and is only interested in being seen to care. The salary in my organisation cannot compete with the private sector. Amongst other things working from home goes some way to making up the reduction in public sector pay that has been going on for over 10 years. Working from home saves me £100 each week. it also saves 1600 miles of carbon emissions each month. I’m not alone in this. And just for the record I’m responding to this on my day off.

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