'Acting as if still in lockdown': Rees-Mogg in fresh veiled threat to civil servants working from home

Britain's Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg addresses delegates during the Conservative Party Spring Conference, at Blackpool Winter Gardens in Blackpool, north-west England on March 18, 2022. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Jacob Rees-Mogg said some civil servants are acting as if the country is still in lockdown. (AFP via Getty Images)

Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested civil servants who work from home could be sacked or see their pay docked.

Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Rees-Mogg accused the Civil Service - the non-political organisation responsible for implementing government policies - of “acting as if it is still in lockdown”.

The article shows Rees-Mogg, the government efficiency minister, is doubling down following the controversy surrounding his messages to civil servants which the public servants’ union branded “crass” and “demeaning”

He has reportedly been leaving notes in “deserted” Whitehall workspaces with the message: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”

With very few people out and about the scene looking along Whitehall in Westminster outside the Cabinet Office is one of empty desolation as the national coronavirus lockdown three continues on 28th January 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Following the surge in cases over the Winter including a new UK variant of Covid-19, this nationwide lockdown advises all citizens to follow the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
A deserted Whitehall during the third national lockdown in January 2021. Jacob Rees-Mogg is calling for civil servants to return to the office. (Getty Images)

Rees-Mogg is said to have been carrying out post-lockdown spot checks of government buildings which he has oversight of as part of his ministerial brief.

And writing in the paper today, Rees-Mogg said: “While the private sector seems to have come to a reasonable equilibrium on home working, parts of the public sector seem to act as if they are still in lockdown. Not only are vast central London offices sitting empty, the Civil Service is as large as it has been for many years.”

Rees-Mogg suggested more experienced civil servants are “enjoying the fruits of their London-weighting [the allowance in pay packets to account for higher costs in the capital] at home in the shires” and that the government is committed to “smaller but better-used government estate in the heart of Whitehall”.

Watch: Civil servants must return to the office, says Jacob Rees-Mogg (from Tuesday)

And in a suggestion those working from home could lose their jobs or have their pay docked, he warned: “Essentially, if people are not back in their office it will be fair to assume that the job does not need to be in London.”

The FDA union, which represents senior public servants, has criticised Rees-Mogg’s approach, accusing him of damaging the reputation of the civil service and waging a “harmful culture war” on it.

General secretary Dave Penman said his desk notes are a “testament to just how disconnected Jacob Rees-Mogg is from the business of government”.

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Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden defended Rees-Mogg on Sunday, saying his notes to civil servants were “driven by getting the very best value for taxpayers and I support him in doing that”.

Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme if the letters are passive aggressive, Dowden said: “I’ve never found Jacob Rees-Mogg passive aggressive.”

He added: “As we learn to live with COVID, I think if we really want to serve the British people best, one of the things we need to do is have that collaboration, that kind of sharing ideas that comes from working in the office.”