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Jacob Rees-Mogg has said civil servants shunning offices to work from home is “a cost to the taxpayer”.
It comes after the minister for government efficiency has reportedly been leaving notes in Whitehall workspaces with the message: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
Although the FDA union, which represents senior public servants, criticised Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach, a Tory minister supported him for looking to get “the very best value for taxpayers”.
Writing in the Mail On Sunday, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Those who are at their desks every day seem to be younger, hard-working and ambitious civil servants, often renting house-shares in London for whom the office provides the right environment for work.
“Meanwhile, others enjoy the fruits of their London-weighting at home in the shires. As the minister responsible for Government property, it is my job to ensure the Government estate is run efficiently and commercially. Empty offices are a cost to the taxpayer.
“The Government is committed to reducing the number of civil servants but there are 91,000 more than in 2015-16. This necessarily means a smaller but better-used Government estate in the heart of Whitehall.
“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. This is clearly a financial opportunity of working from home, which many businesses have taken, by downsizing their offices. This, perhaps, is the trade-off.
“The British people rightly have high expectations of the State. We need to reform Government with a smaller, high-performing and correctly incentivised Civil Service, where talented officials thrive. In order to do that, we need to get back to the office.”
The PA news agency understands that Mr Rees-Mogg has taken to carrying out spot checks of Government buildings which he has oversight of since being placed in charge of government efficiency during Boris Johnson’s February reshuffle.
Mr Rees-Mogg is understood to have left a calling card in a Cabinet Office area following a tip-off from a minister that the space that can fit “dozens” of staff had been left “completely empty”.
He said some offices have an attendance rate of 180% of staff compared to desks, while others are at 6%.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden, asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme if letters left by Mr Rees-Mogg in Government offices are passive aggressive, said: “I’ve never found Jacob Rees-Mogg passive aggressive.”
He paid tribute to “our hardworking civil servants” and their work through the pandemic.
He said: “They worked tirelessly day and night to deliver solutions. They did so working from home, as indeed I did.
“But the world has changed since then. 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.
“So, Jacob’s efforts are driven by getting the very best value for taxpayers and I support him in doing that.”
A Government source said: “The minister strongly believes Government works best when as many people as possible are in their departments.
“In this instance, the office in question was completely deserted.
“It isn’t right that the Government’s large central London estate lies unused.”