Culture secretary

Culture Secretary Dorries slams Rees-Mogg’s ‘Dickensian’ war on public servants working from home

Jacob Rees-Mogg is at the center of a Cabinet row over his willingness to bring civil servants back to their desks.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has accused Mr Rees-Mogg, the minister responsible for government effectiveness, of a “Dickensian” approach to the issue.

Mr Rees-Mogg wrote to Cabinet ministers asking them to send a clear message to staff about a ‘speedy return to the office’ and left notes in empty Whitehall workspaces with the message: ‘I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.

The Times reported that Ms Dorries’ response was highly critical of Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach.

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has led the campaign to bring Whitehall staff back to his office (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA wire)

Mr Rees-Mogg presented figures to the Cabinet last week showing some departments were only using 25 per cent of office capacity at the start of April – the figure from Ms Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Department Dorries was 43%.

Ms Dorries told him her letter to Government Services conjured up ‘images of burning tallow, gloomy eyes and the ghost of Marley’ – a reference to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

She said: ‘There’s a whiff of something Dickensian about it. Why are we measuring bodies behind desks? Why don’t we measure productivity?

The two ministers have long been at odds over the need to return to workplaces following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

But the dispute between the two was “in good spirits”, a government source told the PA news agency.

Government departments had between 25% and 73% of office capacity in use in early April (Yui Mok/PA) (PA wire)

Mr Rees-Mogg would not comment on the line, citing Cabinet confidentiality rules.

He told PA: ‘If it’s Cabinet leaks, I’ll comment under the 30-year rule when we’re all a bit older.’

Unions have opposed Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach, warning that his position undermines the morale of the public service.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior public servants, warned that “good people will leave and the public service brand is being trashed in a highly competitive job market.”

Mr Rees-Mogg used a Mail on Sunday article to warn that civil servants could lose London weighting on their pay or see their jobs shifted elsewhere if they were not in their desks.

“Essentially, if people aren’t back in their offices, it will be fair to assume that work doesn’t need to be in London,” he said.

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