United Kingdom

Boris Johnson is urged to send civil servants back to Whitehall 

Pressure is growing for civil servants to get back to the office amid fears the working from home culture could wreck the economies of town and city centres.

Critics believe private businesses are waiting for the Government to 'take the lead' before they ask their own workers to return to their desks.

But Boris Johnson has so far taken a softly-softly approach to getting staff back into the workplace, despite mounting confidence that the worst of the pandemic is over.

Downing Street yesterday said there were 'no plans' to order Whitehall civil servants back to their desks or to launch a wider return to work push this summer.

However, former cabinet minister David Jones said it was vital for the Government to encourage firms to bring their offices back into use.

Pressure is growing for civil servants to get back to the office amid fears the working from home culture could wreck the economies of town and city centres (stock image)

Mr Jones said: 'It is essential we get office workers back to their desks. They are vital for local economies in town centres – the sandwich shops, restaurants and dry cleaners that depend on them.

'But it is also vital for work, whether it's the increased productivity from people being able to bounce ideas off each other, or the career development of younger workers who need to learn from their colleagues. Government has got a role in this. There is no reason why civil servants shouldn't be returning to work in much greater numbers.

'And I think many businesses are waiting to take their lead from that before ordering their own staff back.'

For much of last year more than 95 per cent of Whitehall civil servants worked from home, in line with Government advice. Privately, some ministers are also frustrated by the lack of a back to work drive.

One described the situation as 'ridiculous', adding: 'The number of officials back at their desks is still tiny. Yes, people can work from home in extremis – we have shown that – but it is not a serious long-term option. 

'Most people are double-jabbed now, cases are falling – there is no reason to delay, certainly beyond September.'

Another Whitehall source said the PM had been 'burned' by the experience last summer, when a major drive to get Whitehall civil servants back to their desks had to be abandoned after only a few weeks when cases surged.

No 10 yesterday said the Government had lifted the work from home order, but wanted to see only a 'gradual' return to the office. 

Critics believe private businesses are waiting for the Government to 'take the lead', but Boris Johnson (pictured) has taken a softly-softly approach to getting staff back into the office

Asked whether there was a plan to get civil servants back to their desks, a spokesman for the PM said: 'You have seen a number of civil servants in the office throughout the pandemic and as we move through this year I am sure you will see more returning.' 

Meanwhile, Lloyds Bank yesterday became the latest major firm to signal a shift to 'hybrid' working.

Interim chief executive William Chalmers said: 'From October, we expect our hybrid way of working – involving time both at home and in the office – will be in place for all roles. We remain very committed to central London and I think a lot of people enjoy spending time here. From what we can see, it gradually is returning to life.'

Lookers, which has 150 franchise car dealerships, has brought only 40 staff back to its head office.

Chief executive Mark Raban said: 'We've got no target or plan to get people back to the office.

'We're not in a rush, we're not out of the woods yet so let's see how it goes. People can work very effectively from home.

'What you do lose is the immediacy, the ability to walk into the next office and have dialogue with a colleague – and there are certain things when we do need to be together.' 

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