Minister Admits Just 25 Percent of Department’s Civil Servants Are Back in Office

August 3, 2021 Updated: August 3, 2021

Only about 25 percent of staff in one government department are currently in the office on any one day, a minister has said, despite the Chancellor advocating the benefits of young people returning to the workplace.

Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills, gave the estimate for the Department for Education when asked on Times Radio on Tuesday morning how many civil servants have returned to the office.

The Cabinet Office declined to release a figure or estimate for the proportion of the Civil Service currently working back in the office across all departments, and said each area has flexibility to make its own arrangements.

The government is no longer instructing people to work from home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and is instead saying that it will leave the decision over workplace returns to businesses.

But government advice also says it “expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer.”

Gillian Keegan : UK Parliament official portrait
Gillian Keegan in an undated UK Parliament official portrait. (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told LinkedIn News on Monday that it had been “really beneficial” working in an office environment early in his career.

He said he made “strong relationships” at the office and still talks to his early mentors, and doubted if he would have been able to do so if they had met while working remotely.

“That’s why I think, for young people in particular, being able to physically be in an office is valuable,” he said.

Keegan told Times Radio on Tuesday: “I have been in the office four days a week since June last year, as have many of us you know, because obviously we have had to navigate these very difficult decisions during the pandemic.

“And many of the civil servants are also back now, more and more are coming back, and quite frankly they are all excited to come back.”

She added: “We have been there all the time, as have many civil servants who support us.

“Of course, the government’s advice was to work from home and we have only recently changed that advice to say it is safe to go back to the office.”

She said the government has advised firms to “use the summer to sort of reintroduce people coming back.”

Asked how many civil servants are back in the office already, Keegan said: “In the DfE, I would say probably 20 to 25 percent at the moment on any one day, obviously different people are coming in different days.”

She added: “I think we have led by example and I think more and more people will, but we have said ‘use the summer to get people coming back, get people comfortable with coming back,’ and you know not everybody will be back all the time, flexible working will be part of our future and we are not telling businesses what to do.”

A government spokesperson said: “The Civil Service continues to follow government guidance, as we gradually and cautiously increase the number of staff working in the office.

“Our approach, which builds on our learning during the pandemic, takes advantage of the benefits of both office and home-based working across the UK.

“Departments have flexibility to make working arrangements which meet their requirements.”

By Ben Hatton