Mr Rees-Mogg is leading Government efforts to end home-working practices among officials after the Covid pandemic. The minister responsible for government efficiency has written to Cabinet ministers calling on them to issue a clear message to staff about a “rapid return to the office”. He has also been leaving notes in empty Whitehall workspaces with the message: “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
However, his campaign has enraged some of his fellow Cabinet ministers with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries accusing him of a “Dickensian” approach to the issue.
But Downing Street said Mr Johnson supported Mr Rees-Mogg’s efforts.
“What the minister is seeking to achieve is to do everything possible to get the civil service to return to the pre-pandemic level,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“That is what he is seeking to do. That is supported by the Cabinet Secretary and obviously the Prime Minister.”
Asked if the notes left on desks by Mr Rees-Mogg were helpful, the spokesman said Mr Johnson “supports any initiative that encourages people to return to pre-pandemic working”.
“We are not talking about putting an end to flexible working, which continues to have a place in the modern workplace, we are talking about returning to pre-pandemic use of taxpayer-funded departmental buildings.”
It was reported that Ms Dorries’ response was highly critical of Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach.
Mr Rees-Mogg presented figures to Cabinet last week showing that some Government departments were using as little as 25 percent of office capacity in early April – the figure for Ms Dorries’ Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was 43 percent.
Ms Dorries told him his letter to Government departments brought to mind “images of burning tallow, rheumy eyes and Marley’s ghost” – a reference to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
“There’s a whiff of something Dickensian about it. Why are we measuring bodies behind desks? Why aren’t we measuring productivity?,” the Times newspaper reported her as saying.
The two ministers have long disagreed about the need to return to places of work following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
But the dispute between the two was “good natured”, one Government source said. Mr Rees-Mogg would not comment on the row, citing Cabinet confidentiality rules.
He said: “If it’s leaks from Cabinet, I’ll comment under the 30-year rule when we’re all a little bit older.”
Unions have objected to Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach, with warnings his stance is damaging civil service morale.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, warned that “good people will leave and the civil service brand is trashed in a highly competitive employment market”.
Mr Rees-Mogg used a Mail on Sunday article to warn that officials may lose the London weighting on their pay or see their jobs moved elsewhere if they were not at their desks.
“Essentially, if people are not back in their office it will be fair to assume that the job does not need to be in London,” he said.
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