Civil service leaders face new back-to-office performance regime

John Glen says he wants success with 60:40 rule factored into senior officials' yearly reviews
Amanda Rose/Alamy

By Suzannah Brecknell

24 Jan 2024

Departmental leaders are set to be hit with new personal targets for compliance with ministers’ latest back-to-the-office drive for civil servants, Cabinet Office minister John Glen has said.

Glen said yesterday that success with the 60:40 push – exclusively revealed by CSW in November – will be factored into senior officials’ yearly appraisals, adding an additional incentive for bosses to be seen to lead from the front.

Speaking at an Institute for Government event yesterday, Glen said members of the senior civil service needed to “set an example as leaders” now the expectation of 60% office attendance for staff had been set.

“I want to consider how this expectation can be baked into our management of senior staff, which is why we will be making this distinction clearer for senior civil servants at the start of the performance year,” Glen said.

“Ultimately, I want staff to bring themselves – their ideas, their passion and their dedication – into the office to tackle problems together.”

Glen also told the audience that Cabinet Office was currently considering the best way to measure and verify that the 60% target is being achieved.

Civil service unions blasted the latest back-to-office drive as “arbitrary” and unsupported by evidence.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the ability to work from home had brought “huge benefits” for civil servants, reduced travelling time and cut the nation’s carbon footprint.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, said there was some evidence that hybrid working was better than full remote working, but that there was no “magic number” for the right balance.

“Sixty percent has quite literally been plucked from thin air by ministers to suit their political agenda,” he said.

Glen told the IfG event there was “no denying” the many benefits of colleagues working together in an office.

“People can be more productive, and complex tasks often can be overcome more efficiently,” he said.

Glen has served as Cabinet Office minister since November’s reshuffle, when predecessor Jeremy Quin resigned from government with the stated aim of spending more time on issues in his Horsham constituency. Quin has since become chair of parliament’s Defence Committee.

The reshuffle also saw Esther McVey return to government as a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office – a role briefed by No.10 as “minister for common sense”.

Yesterday, Glen praised McVey’s work to “root out” the Cabinet Office’s inefficiencies in recent weeks.

“She brings a refreshing clarity and analysis to how the government works, a clarity which I – and the public – truly welcome,” he said.

Glen also said he believed government was more complex than it needed to be.

“Complex processes hide inefficiencies,” he said. “Simplifying how we work will make the civil service more productive, and will help us improve public services.”

Asked about the role of the functions in helping to improve productivity, Glen said there has been "variable success" across different areas, citing the commercial function as "really important" and "instrumental in delivering gains".

He added, however, that "the functions also need to evolve" as the models which worked when they were first launched may not longer be relevant, and pointed to the digital and property functions as examples where change may be needed. 

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