Where are your civil servants? Clueless ministers don't know how many staff WFH

28 January 2022, 10:31

Ministers failed to provide information on how many of their staff are working from home
Ministers failed to provide information on how many of their staff are working from home. Picture: LBC

By Megan Hinton

Clueless ministers have failed to say how many of their staff are working from home, as Whitehall struggles to get staff back to their desks.

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Last week, thousands of commuters in England headed back into the office, after Boris Johnson scraped work from home guidance with immediate effect.

The Prime Minister told MPs in the Commons last Wednesday that work-from-home guidance would be dropped immediately and rules on face coverings in classrooms would also be scrapped in England from Thursday January 27.

Tube services recorded a spike traffic on key routes in and around London was building up during the morning rush hour.

But despite the change in the rules, it has been reported that Ministers have struggled to change the 'working-from-home culture' in Whitehall.

Each Minister grilled by LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast in the seven days since the Boris Johnson scrapped the rules, has refused to give an answer into how may staff in their department are now back in the office.

All stating they did not know exact numbers or vague percentages.

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On Thursday morning, the day the guidance changed, Health Secretary Sajid Javid could not answer Nick's questions over the amount of staff who were back in the office.

Last Friday, Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng was left squirming over the number of staff heading back to offices in his own department

Mr Kwarteng was asked by Nick Ferrari at Breakfast : "What percentage of your colleagues are back behind their desks in their respective offices in your department?"

Mr Kwarteng replied: "We are trying to increase the number and I’m certain in a few weeks we’ll get people largely very much back to the office.

"I think a five-year-old might notice you didn’t answer my question there, what is the current percentage?" said Nick.

"I don’t know the current percentage. At the height of the pandemic it was substantially lower, about 25 per cent."

He went on to say the number had gone up, and when pressed further that the number was nonetheless still less than 50 per cent.

"I would say it’s nearly 50 per cent," said Mr Kwarteng, before conceding he didn’t have the exact figure to hand and joked he had ‘learnt his lesson’ about needing to be armed with exact figures for interviews.

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On Monday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi failed to answer the simple question.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps said train companies have been ordered to return to normal capacity "as soon as possible" when he spoke to Nick on Tuesday morning.

But when he was quizzed on the percentage of staff back behind their desk in the office, he replied; "I don't have a percent yet, but I did notice yesterday just anecdotally, lots more people around then I've seen since we moved to plan B.

"Which is encouraging, we are the Department for Transport so people tend to quite like travelling so I speak to al ot of my team at the DfT who say its actually really nice to be able to get out of the house."

After a grilling on exact numbers he replied: "I am not being evasive I just don't know."

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss failed to answer the basic question on Wednesday, as did Work and Pensions Minister Therese Coffey on Thursday.

When asked about the importance of getting the economy back on track by increasing commuter footfall, Culture Minister Chris Philp could not say how many of his staff were back in the office.

Nick asked: "What is the percentage of staff in your department back working behind their retrospective desks?"

The Culture Minister replied: "Well good question, I don’t know what the answer is. I can certainly say as a Minister now that guidance has changed a few days ago, I’ve been in every day as you can imagine throughout the whole period.

"I've said that I want to do meetings with officials face to face because now the guidance has changed I think it is more effective to do so.

"I had meetings yesterday with our excellent civil servants face to face and I look forward to continuing to do so again next week."

When pressed on an exact number he added: "Honestly Nick I don’t know I don’t have that figure. "

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The failure to answer questions comes after Sarah Healey, permanent secretary at the culture department, boasted about her love of working from home last year.

She described using spare time to ride on Peloton exercise bike and spend more time with family.

During her time working from home last year it was revealed Mrs Healey benefited from free tickets to concerts and football matches. She also attended the Brit Awards, two England Euro football matches, a concert and two dinners, the Mail discovered.

Mrs Healey’s annual salary was in the £165,000-£170,000 bracket last September.

She now splits her working week half from her office in Whitehall and half her £1million Victorian home in Dulwich, South East London, despite work from home guidance being scrapped.