Heatwave thwarted efforts to get civil servants back to the office

·2-min read
Many civil servants stayed at home as the UK experienced what the Met Office described as a ‘brief but unprecedented extreme heatwave’ - iStock
Many civil servants stayed at home as the UK experienced what the Met Office described as a ‘brief but unprecedented extreme heatwave’ - iStock

Working from home increased in every Whitehall department during last month’s heatwave, official statistics have revealed.

On Thursday, the Cabinet Office published data showing the daily average for staff working in Whitehall offices during July.

The numbers suggest the spike in temperatures in the middle of the month had a significant impact on the workforce as civil servants ditched Whitehall in favour of staying at home.

The UK experienced what the Met Office described as a “brief but unprecedented extreme heatwave from July 16 to 19”, with temperatures hitting more than 40C.

More than a dozen train companies urged Britons not to travel at the start of the week beginning on July 18 because of the soaring temperatures.

The numbers released by the Cabinet Office suggest many civil servants heeded the advice not to travel as the Government’s drive to get more staff back to Whitehall offices following the Covid pandemic suffered a setback.

In the week commencing July 11, the Department for International Trade had a daily average of 82 per cent of staff working at its Whitehall office – but in the week beginning July 18, that fell to 62 per cent.

It was a similar story at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where occupancy fell from 59 per cent to 40 per cent.

The Department for Education saw a fall from 62 per cent to 47 per cent, the Department for Work and Pensions a drop from 51 per cent to 37 per cent and HMRC a decrease from 50 per cent to 31 per cent.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs went from 60 per cent to 42 per cent, and the Ministry of Justice from 71 per cent to 54 per cent.

Staff occupancy at the Scotland Office fell from 65 per cent to 52 per cent, and for the Wales Office from 60 per cent to 41 per cent.

The fall in staff occupancy across Whitehall also coincided with the start of the parliamentary recess, with the House of Commons starting its summer break on July 21.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, has led calls for Civil Service staff to return to the office. He wrote to all secretaries of state, asking them to get their departments back to “full capacity”, in April.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We have been consistently clear that we want to see office attendance across the civil service consistently back at pre-pandemic levels.

“As you would expect, workplace attendance will be lower in summer as staff take annual leave and with the impact of recent rail strikes, but this has not prevented civil servants from delivering vital public services.”

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