Sunday, 5 Feb 2023

Civil servants still at home with Foreign office only half full

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The latest figures show the Foreign Office – the worst performing department – was only 50 per cent full in the week beginning January 9.

HMRC and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport were just 56 per cent occupied.

The lack of staff in the office has been for “appallingly bad service”.

Craig Mackinlay, a chartered accountant who is also the Conservative MP for South Thanet, said: “The whole of HMRC has collapsed… I’ve never seen it so bad in my 30 years of being in practice.”

He is convinced that high numbers of people working from home have contributed to problems in the civil service.

“We are not getting the output that we were pre-Covid,” he said. “There is no doubt about it.”

The Department for Work and Pensions was only 62 per cent occupied, and the Home Office was just 63 per cent full.

In contrast, the Ministry of Justice was 76 per cent full, and the Ministry of Defence was 95 per cent.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said that if civil servants were not coming into work the public purse should not be used to rent expensive premises.

He said: “Taxpayers are fed up of continually forking out for empty desks in government departments. While working from home has become more common, ministers should consider whether costly Whitehall workplaces are still necessary.

“If civil servants are going to carry on working remotely, savings can be made by selling off unnecessary office space.”

A Government-commissioned report into home working in 2021 found “73 per cent of civil servants would prefer to work remotely for three or more days per week”.

Just 27 per cent wanted to return to the office once Covid-19 restrictions were removed; this is despite more than one in three lacking a space at home they could designate for work.

An HMRC spokesman said: “Hybrid working is part of HMRC’s offer to colleagues, but always subject to operational requirements and our colleagues are held to the same standards whether they are working from an HMRC building or from home.

“We collected a record sum for the UK’s public services last year and the National Audit Office has recognised that HMRC’s compliance work provides good value to the taxpayer.”

A Foreign Office spokesman defended the low occupancy rates, saying: “The FCDO is a global organisation and our staff pursue the UK’s interests abroad. To do this effectively they work away from the office more regularly than other departments, including to travel for diplomatic business and supporting Ministerial visits overseas.”

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