‘I know I can count on you,’ Sedwill tells officials as services come under coronavirus pressure

Written by Beckie Smith on 25 March 2020 in News
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“I know I can count on everyone to exemplify those values as we help the government navigate the country through this emergency”

“Many civil servants can and should work from home, but many cannot," Sedwill said. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has written to civil servants to thank them for their ongoing work in tackling the coronavirus, and to praise their “commitment, resilience and morale” in a time of crisis.

In a message sent last night, Sedwill said civil servants and other public sector staff were playing a “vital role” in ensuring public services could continue amid the spread of Covid-19.

“As both the head of the service and as a citizen, I am immensely proud of the commitment, resilience and morale of the entire public service,” the cab sec said.


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“I know I can count on everyone to exemplify those values as we help the government navigate the country through this emergency, and provide the services and the leadership in our communities on which our fellow citizens rely,” read the message, entitled “Thank you for all that you are doing during this challenging period”.

Sedwill said civil servants should follow the measures set out by Boris Johnson in his televised address on Monday – to stay at home apart from to exercise once a day, to shop for necessities, to fulfil medical needs or care for others, and to go to work only where absolutely needed.

“Many civil servants can and should work from home, but many cannot if we are to maintain the public service provision to which we are all committed. Your department will ensure that if you have to operate from your workplace you can do so safely in accordance with public health guidance,” he said.

But Sedwill, who is also head of the civil service, said he felt it was important for him to personally set out the principles he expected public servants to adhere to, “given our vital role in supporting the citizens of our country, especially those most vulnerable, through this crisis”.

He said it was “vital” that public services were able to “continue uninterrupted” while most citizens remained under the strict “lockdown” protocols laid down by the prime minister.

“Some are under considerable pressure: DWP, for example, is handling a sharp increase in claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit. Many others are directly involved in responding to the crisis, notably those contributing to the shielding programme for those most vulnerable to the disease,” he said. 

Sedwill’s message came shortly before Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary Peter Schofield revealed that around 477,000 claims for Universal Credit had been submitted in the space of nine days – 10 times the usual rate.

Schofield told MPs today that he was “absolutely committed” to ensuring payments were not delayed, but said it was impossible to rule out delays.

DWP is redeploying some 10,000 back office staff to handle claims as delays stack up. Some 1,500 civil servants have been moved so far, and 3,000 more will be reassigned later this week.

The message is the latest in a series of regular updates from the cabinet secretary to civil servants on the status of the government’s efforts to tackle the novel coronavirus.

Last week, Sedwill told officials: “Over the coming months, the civil service, like every organisation, will have to adapt the way we work. This means following the official advice while managing higher than average levels of absence.”

He told staff to “look after each other” amid the crisis response and added: “We will need to divert resources to this campaign and every department has extensive plans in place, including the working patterns of staff in frontline roles, to ensure that we can continue to deliver public services.”

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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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william.johnsto...

Submitted on 25 March, 2020 - 16:47
Mr Sedwill, As we are doing such a good job, can we hope for a pay rise of better than half the rate of inflation? After all, MPs got 3.1%

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