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Whitehall will only have office space for half of the civil servants based there in future – as ministers urge staff to set an example after work from home guidance was ended.
Under a strategy to rationalise the government estate in London, there will only be capacity for 50 per cent of staff to be at their desks from 2030.
The proposals were branded ‘bonkers’ by Tories, although the Cabinet Office insisted not all those away from Whitehall would be working from home – arguing some would be visiting other offices around the country.
The shift is highlighted in an official report that also reveals the Whitehall ‘campus’ and other buildings in the capital are costing £621million a year to run.
They currently house around 68,000 full-time equivalent staff, giving a cost per head of £9,132.
Boris Johnson has urged civil servants to set an example and return to ‘normal’ patterns after Covid work from home guidance was lifted.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted this morning that he does not know what proportion are in at his department, suggesting it might be less than half.
The State of the Estate report published by the Government Property Agency last month highlights the drive to move staff out of London and cut running costs.
But it also reveals that the remaining ‘Whitehall Campus’ – made up of the HQs of departments and agencies – will only have space for around half of the staff who are based there.
Boris Johnson has urged civil servants to set an example and return to ‘normal’ patterns after Covid work from home guidance was lifted
Under a strategy to rationalise the government estate in London, there will only be capacity for 50 per cent of staff to be at their desks from 2030
The State of the Estate report published by the Government Property Agency last month highlights the drive to move staff out of London and cut running costs. But it also reveals that the remaining ‘Whitehall Campus’ will only have space for around half of the staff who are based there
‘The Whitehall Campus Strategy aims to deliver a campus with a 50 per cent reduced footprint compared to a 2019 baseline, comprised of c. 20 ‘core’ buildings housing c.40,000 FTEs at a 50 per cent Attendance Rate (i.e. will have a capacity of no more than 20,000 individuals at any one time) by 2030,’ the report said.
It added that a ‘refreshed, updated’ strategy for managing the government property portfolio up to 2030 will be published this year.
Some staff are likely to be out of the office on any given day due to rota patterns and holidays, as well as working from home.
A Government source insisted the proportion working from home would be significantly lower than 50 per cent, with a push for people to spend more time out of London even if they are based there.
They said the ‘attendance rate’ in Whitehall before the pandemic was 65-70 per cent – although it is not clear what proportion were working from home then – and argued that no businesses have enough desks for all staff to be in at once.
Officials insist that rationalising the estate and offering staff more flexibility will unlock big savings for the taxpayer.
But senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith told MailOnline: ‘Another bonkers idea brought to you by a bunch of civil servants on their Peletons.
‘It is all nonsense. The truth is that you need civil servants in their offices because things happen politics in politics quickly, sharply that you sometimes were not anticipating.
‘Politics demands that the civil service are there. Government is not like running a business. There are so many things going on that can go on and change.
‘The idea you have 50 per cent of the workforce in their homes is ridiculous when loads of the people who service them – delivering food, getting their books sold to them, working in warehouses – they can’t work from home.’
Mr Kwarteng struggled when he was grilled on LBC radio about the number of staff still working from home.
Asked what percentage were back at the Business Department, Mr Kwarteng initially insisted: ‘Well, we’re trying to increase the number and I’m hopeful that certainly in a few weeks, we will get people largely very much back to the office.’
When presenter Nick Ferrari pointed out that he had not given a figure, Mr Kwarteng admited ‘I don’t know the exact percentage as of today’.
He said the figure had ‘definitely’ lifted from around 25 per cent at the nadir of lockdown but could only give a ‘rough’ estimate.
‘I would say it’s about, nearly 50 per cent, but it’s going to increase over the next few days and weeks.’
It is understood the permanent secretary at the Department for Business wrote to all officials yesterday encouraging them to come back to the office.
In a fortnight staff will be expected to be in at least three days a week.
Figures indicate that the number of workers travelling to offices has increased since the Prime Minister dropped official WFH guidance.
Yesterday, the number of Tube journeys increased by 10 per cent on last Thursday to 2.1million, while the number of bus journeys rose by 4 per cent in the past seven days to 4.4million, according to TfL data.
Kwasi Kwarteng struggled when he was grilled on LBC today about the number of staff still working from home
This chart shows the floor area in square metres of government offices around the country
But civil service unions have hit back at the embattled PM’s bid to get Britain back to work as the Omicron wave fades.
Mr Johnson has demanded civil servants set an example by returning to their desks, and yesterday ordered Cabinet ministers to ensure their Whitehall staff resumed ‘normal working patterns’ as soon as possible.
But union bosses branded the PM’s demands ‘insulting’ and claimed the move to get workers back in the office was ‘reckless’.
The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents civil servants and other public sector workers, warned against a ‘headlong rush’ back to the workplace. The FDA union also reacted angrily, saying the world of work had ‘changed for good’.
Tory MPs and business leaders have demanded that Mr Johnson face down the unions – saying failure to act would be disastrous for the economy.
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called unions bosses ‘selfish’ for backing continued home working as the threat of Covid wanes.
‘When they eventually go back to their office there won’t be anywhere to get a sandwich from or sit down in a pub – they’ll all close,’ he warned.
A government spokesman said: ‘These claims are misleading and taken out of context.
‘As part of the Government’s Levelling Up strategy, we are recruiting more people from outside London to locations across the UK in order to make the Civil Service more representative of the people it serves.’