Busiest and emptiest departmental HQs revealed

Cabinet Office says figures show number of civil servants working from offices is increasing across Whitehall
The MoD has been most full in the last few months, alongside DIT. Photo: Marc Zakian/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

01 Jul 2022

The Cabinet Office has revealed the busiest and emptiest departmental offices amid a post-pandemic drive from efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg to get more officials back at their office desks. 

The data, published by the Cabinet Office on Thursday, shows how full each major department headquarters has been as a percentage of its capacity since February. 

The Ministry of Defence, Main Building and Department for International Trade, Admiralty Place HQs have been the busiest, with each averageing 77% attendance in the period from 7 February to 24 June. Others with high attendance are the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall (70%) and the Department for Health and Social Care, 39 Victoria Street (67%).

HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards (51%) and the Department for Transport, Great Minster House (50%) have also reached an average of half-full or more. 

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, King Charles Street, and the Department for Work and Pensions, Caxton House, have been the least busy, with both having an average of 34% over the 21-week period. 

The following HQs also had an average of less than 50%: 

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2 Marsham Street (37%) 
  • HM Revenue and Customs, 100 Parliament Street (39%) 
  • Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 1 Victoria Street (44%) 
  • Department For Education, Sanctuary Buildings (44%) 
  • Home Office, 2 Marsham Street (45%) 
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 100 Parliament Street (48%) 
  • Department for Levelling Up, Housing Communities, 2 Marsham Street (49%) 
  • Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France (49%) 

All HQs have either got busier or kept roughly the same occupancy levels since February.  

A government spokesperson said the statistics “show that the number of civil servants working from offices is increasing across Whitehall”.

“However, there is more to do and the prime minister and cabinet secretary have been clear they want to see office attendance across the civil service consistently back at pre-pandemic levels,” the spokesperson added.

Rees-Mogg has repeatedly called for civil servants to return to offices following the end of Covid restrictions. In April, he urged ministers to order civil servants to stop working from home and ensure offices are at "full capacity". 

He also left notes on empty work desks on a visit to government buildings in the same month, which said: “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.” 

But according to data obtained by Sky News under the Freedom of Information Act, many HQs do not have nearly enough space for all their employees. For example, the Department for International Trade's Admiralty Place HQ has 3,151 workers and 708 desks, according to the news channel.

Departments started collecting data on occupancy February 7, with the most recent data entry from the week of June 20-24. 

The Scotland Office, Dover House (47%), Wales Office, Gwydyr House (50%) and Northern Ireland Office, Erskine House (53%) also submitted occupancy data, but only from 14 March.

The data was originally gathered for internal purposes to indicate the progress being made by departments in returning to the workplace in greater numbers. The Cabinet Office published the figures on Thursday. 

The Cabinet Office has also released ‘time series graphs’, showing how figures have changed over the February-June period. Occupancy levels have either risen or largely stayed the same, with the biggest increases over the last few months at the DfE, MoJ, DLUHC and Northern Ireland Office HQs.  

The Cabinet Office, MoD and DIT HQs all have had fairly static figures, with each office having already been very busy in early February. The Home Office and FCDO’s figures have also not changed hugely over the last few months.

Occupancy fell significantly in most departments last week, however – the most recent week with data available – with train strikes having taken place on the Tuesday and Thursday that week.

Departments did not capture information employees working in other locations such as other government buildings, other workplaces or working from home. 

Many government departments have seen their occupancy rates rise to those seen before the pandemic for several months now, it said. 

Giving an example, the Cabinet Office said it had an average of about 70% occupation pre-pandemic, which is exactly the same as its average of the last few months.  

The Cabinet Office said data was collected from departmental HQ buildings “to gain a general understanding of each department’s position without requiring departments to introduce data collection methods across their whole estate which would be expensive and resource intensive”. 

All data was sourced and collected by departments and provided to the Cabinet Office. The figures do not include contractors and visitors and the data is for departmental HQ buildings only.

The Cabinet Office said the data should not be used to compare departments as “the factors determining the numbers of employees working in the workplace, such as the differing operating models and the service they deliver as well as different data collection methods, will vary across departments”. 

Departments did not collect the data in exactly the same ways but the Cabinet Office said they used four main methods: 

  • Wifi and/or computer log-ins associated with location 
  • Swipe pass entry data 
  • Space or desk booking system
  • Manual count 

The Cabinet Office said work is underway to develop a common methodology for efficiently monitoring occupancy that provides a daily and historic trend record of office occupancy levels. 

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