WFH civil servants want to save on lunch and fares, says minister

·2-min read

Ministers are growing increasingly frustrated over civil servants not returning to offices with some believed to be reluctant to fork out for their “lunch and train fares”.

Whitehall officials are under pressure to reduce the number of days they are working from home to help London and other UK city centres to recover following the Covid pandemic.

Speaking to the Standard, one senior minister said it was time for civil servants to return in greater numbers but that some were refusing because “some just want to save their lunch and train fares”.

Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging people to ditch working from home, in his Tory Party Conference speech last week, Number 10 said on Monday that there were no plans to set any targets for Government departments to increase the number of staff in the workplace.

“As we asked for, and expected, we are seeing a steady return of civil servants to the office,” a Number 10 spokesman said. “That’s what we would expect, not just in the civil service but in the private sector as well and that will continue.”

The Civil Servants Union the FDA said on Tuesday it was “seeing a gradual return to workplaces as the norm across the civil service broadly” and that office capacity has been gradually increasing as a result of more staff wanting to return.

But one department last week told its staff still working from home that they would be required in the office just one day a week.

In a note to staff, HMRC’s Permanent Secretary Jim Harra said: “All colleagues in England and Scotland who have been temporarily working from home during the pandemic, will have agreed a plan with their line manager to return to the workplace for an average of one day a week”.

Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster and vice chair of the Conservative Party, said civil servants should follow the example being set by the private sector.

“There is a balance to be struck, but the civil service needs to lead from the front and I have been disappointed so few have come back,” Ms Aiken said. “I would encourage the civil service to do their bit for the economy and the country.

“The civil service needs to take a leaf out of the private sector’s book. Big organisations I speak to in the City see the advantage of being back in the office.”

Ms Aiken also questioned whether it was right that civil servants no longer commuting to or living in the capital should still receive London weighting.

“If the taxpayer is paying extra money for someone working in central London and they are not working in London, then there needs to be a discussion about that,” she added.

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