Civil service union FDA has hit back against accusations from Jacob Rees-Mogg that staff are using flexible working arrangements to “skive off”.
The government efficiencies minister wrote to departments last week, warning that they should not overuse flexi-time and other flexible working arrangements, and has asked for lists of how these arrangements are used.
He has asked departments for “details of any controls … to ensure civil servants working flexibly are, in fact, working their contractual hours” by the end of the month, according to a report in The Times.
Government figures on civil service occupancy rates for August show that a number of departments had less than 50% occupancy during that month – in particular the Foreign Office, where occupancy rates were around a third.
The department with the highest level of occupancy is the Ministry of Defence, where the final week of August saw 78% occupancy.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said Rees-Mogg has “an ideological obsession that any flexibility for civil servants is somehow a skive”, referring to the fact flexi-time has been in use in the public sector for decades.
The union recently commissioned a poll showing that 49% of adults work from home some of the time, with 15% saying they never go to an office.
Two-thirds of those whole regularly work from home said it was easier to focus, although some said it harmed relationships with colleagues.
“Rather than standing in the way of progress like Luddites, ministers should embrace the opportunities this provides to save taxpayers’ money on office accommodation,” Penman added.
Last week Rees-Mogg announced a new government property strategy that involves selling off £1.5bn in assets over the next three years as more civil servants move out of London.
“We are cutting the cost of the public estate so that we can return money to the taxpayer,” he said. “This will also help us deliver the Places for Growth programme, which will allow greater savings and mean the government is closer to the communities it serves.”
In May this year, civil service commissioner Baroness Gisela Stuart said that ministers like Rees-Mogg risk driving good people out of Whitehall by attacking hybrid and remote working practices.
She said: “Politicians can answer back when they feel they’ve been unfairly attacked and criticised. Civil servants can’t … you have to rely on us to make your case and to defend your professional integrity.”