Gove urged to distance government from attacks on civil service remote working

FDA chief says Cabinet Office minister needs to personally reassure officials that ministers are committed to flexible roles
Call to action: Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove Credit: PA

By Jim Dunton

11 Aug 2021

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has been urged to publicly reassure civil servants that the government is committed to flexible working after a call for officials to have their pay cut if they do not return to their offices.

Dave Penman, general secretary of public sector leaders’ union the FDA, made the demand in an open letter to Gove following the suggestion – attributed to an unnamed cabinet minister – that officials who work remotely should receive less pay.

He warned the Cabinet Office minister that in addition to insulting departmental staff who pioneered new ways of working during the pandemic lockdowns, a politically-motivated crackdown on remote working risked jeopardising the government’s Places for Growth programme.

The prime minister’s official spokesman on Monday confirmed there were“no plans” to implement a pay cut for civil servants who continue remote working. But Penman said it would be a mistake to ignore the detrimental impact the proposal was having across the civil service. 

“I cannot impress upon you enough the upset and anger these remarks have caused among civil servants,” he wrote to Gove.

“These insulting and cowardly attacks require a response from the government, and I am asking you as minister for the Cabinet Office to assure civil servants that these views do not represent the views of the government, their employer.”

Penman warned that criticism of remote working – coupled with the suggestion that it is akin to shirking – directly contradicted the main ethos of the Places for Growth programme, which aims to relocate around 22,000 jobs away from the capital by the end of the decade.

In the letter, which was copied to cabinet secretary Simon Case, he said the programme would be dependent on an element of remote working. Penman also questioned whether those in government – including chancellor Rishi Sunak – who have been extolling the value of face-to-face meetings in recent weeks understood the message they were sending to staff who would be working outside London in future.

“If ‘face-to-face’ time is so critical to careers, what message should civil servants working in the Cabinet Office in Glasgow or HM Treasury in Darlington take, when, inevitably, they will have less ‘face-to-face’ time with ministers?” he asked.

Penman concluded: “I would urge you, therefore, to consider an urgent message to civil servants publicly distancing the government from the anonymous comments from cabinet ministers, recognising their incredible achievements over the last 18 months and assuring them of the government’s commitment to a well-managed transition to the new working arrangements.”

Earlier this week PCS, the civil service’s biggest union force, warned ministers to expect industrial action if any proposals were tabled to reduce pay for staff who worked remotely.

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