Ministers ‘mixing messages’ after U-turn on civil service work from home policy

Ministers ‘mixing messages’ after U-turn on civil service work from home policy
People should not be pressured to return to offices ‘while cases are still high’, an MP said

Ministers have been accused of issuing confusing advice over whether civil servants should continue working from home.

The government has reportedly scrapped plans to require Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) staff to be based in the office part-time from September.

England’s order to work from home where possible, which was put in place in March 2020 as part of efforts to contain the spread of the Covid virus, was lifted on 19 July.

DHSC staff were told that there would be a “minimum expectation” that they would attend the Westminster office for between four and eight days every month, unless there was a business or health-related reason.

But an announcement sent out to staff on Thursday, that has been seen by The Guardian, states that the requirement to work partly from the office has been dropped.

In Whitehall, departments have flexibility to make working arrangements that suit their needs and are expected to “cautiously increase” the number of staff working in the office during the pandemic – a government spokesperson said.

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak had warned people who are in their early stages of their careers that working from home is not as “valuable” for their career progression as working face-to-face with colleagues.

Layla Moran, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said the DHSC u-turn showed there was “inconsistency” in the government’s work-from-home guidance.

The Liberal Democrat MP said: “This is yet more mixed messaging from the Government at a time when the public and businesses need clarity.

“This comes just days after the Chancellor urged young people to head back to the office, showing the inconsistency at the heart of the government’s approach.

“Ministers shouldn’t be urging people back to the office at a time when [Covid] cases remain high and against the Government’s own workplace safety guidance.

“Reducing transmission remains important to prevent the emergence of new variants that could evade current vaccines.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous Cabinet Office minister told the Daily Mail that civil servants working from home should have their pay cut to make up for the “de facto pay rise” from not having to commute.

It is “unfair on those who are going into work” when other staff members save on commuting costs, the minister said.

In the Department for Education, skills minister Gillian Keegan estimated around 25 per cent of staff were in the office on any given day “and quite frankly they are all excited to come back”.

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