Probe into ‘flexitime’ deals for civil servants who work part-time hours on full-time pay

·4-min read
Jacob Rees-Mogg - Shutterstock
Jacob Rees-Mogg - Shutterstock

Jacob Rees-Mogg has ordered a crackdown on Whitehall “flexitime” deals where civil servants work part-time hours on full-time pay, The Telegraph can reveal.

Scores of officials in Government departments are allowed to decide the hours they work on any given day under the little-known “flexitime” arrangement.

Mandarins can decide their start and finish times, providing they add up to the Civil Service’s standard working week of 37.5 hours – around five hours less than the national average.

Some have boasted that they freely disappear to the gym for hours and skip the office on Fridays without oversight from managers.

But now Mr Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, has intervened to demand an official Whitehall-wide review of the system over fears that taxpayer cash is being wasted.

It comes as Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss has vowed a “war” on Whitehall waste if she becomes Britain’s next prime minister, with rife working from home practices in departments and diversity jobs to be culled.

On Saturday Mr Rees-Mogg told The Telegraph: “I have already encouraged civil servants to come back to the office instead of working from home, with improvements across Whitehall as a result.

“But 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.

“Working around others is good for everyone and 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.”

It is understood that “flexitime” is popular among staff in Whitehall departments such as the Department for Transport and the Treasury.

It allows them to work, for example, 1pm until 4pm one day, and 10am to 2pm the next with certain core hours.

Despite the generous deal, 12 of the 19 main Whitehall departments were still less than 67 per cent full at the start of July, with just four in ten officials back behind their desks in the Foreign Office and both the Home Office and HMRC barely half full.

The UK’s average week of full-time work is 42.5 hours, according to a report by the European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat - far more than the Civil Service norm of 37.5. Serbia had the longest at 48.3 hours, while Denmark was shortest at 38.3.

Civil servants have boasted of the work-life balance “flexitime” affords, as well as extensive overtime payments if they have to stay late.

‘My working day has no rigid form’

While the Cabinet Office said strict approval processes are used, one official in a Whitehall department admitted their day is “very, very flexible, to the extent that it has no rigid form”.

“I go to the gym in the middle of the day for two hours and nobody has ever asked where I am,” they told The Telegraph. “I sometimes don’t come in on Fridays because I know my manager isn’t there.”

Another civil servant said: “I live for the Civil Service flexitime contract, which means that instead of my life revolving around work, work revolves around my life.”

But the latest continued refusal of civil servants to ditch flexible working has stoked fury amid continued backlogs at the Passport Office, the DVLA and economic crises at home and abroad.

Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley and a member of the Common Sense Group of Tory parliamentarians, criticised how officials “can’t be bothered” to turn up to work.

“It’s nice work if you can get it, isn’t it? Right across the piece in the Government machinery, whether it’s passports, driving licences, visas, the whole thing has been pretty poor,” he said.

“If all of these people were performing to a high standard and nobody was having to wait at all, then fair enough, but we can’t have these kinds of working practices when the end product for so many people who rely on them is so poor.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said “the vast majority” of civil servants have different arrangements to “flexitime”, but it “allows the Civil Service to attract a range of talented and capable people who may have caring responsibilities or disabilities”.

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