Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft has said where the head of the HM Passport Office works has “zero bearing” on the agency’s productivity, in an extraordinary public intervention in a worsening row over hybrid working.
In a highly unusual public statement, the Home Office’s most senior civil servant hit back at media reports that Passport Office director general Abi Tierney has been working from home and from the department’s locations across the country.
The Telegraph published an article appearing to blame hybrid working arrangements for a large backlog of passport applications, the same week as the prime minister promised to “privatise the a*** off” the passport office over the delays.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed resident in the Leicestershire village where Tierney lives, saying the director general works remotely “and rarely goes to work”.
But Rycroft has said the story “totally ignores reality”.
"Abi is a hugely talented leader, heading up our world-class visa and passport operations. With sites spread across the UK, Abi works day-in, day-out with teams around the country delivering vital services for the British public,” his statement read.
"Abi’s work location has had precisely zero bearing on the current situation with passports, which has largely resulted from a drop in applications during the pandemic. Our teams are working flat out to meet the demand.
"We are proud to be spreading opportunity and talent across the country, moving away from the outdated notion that everything must be done in London."
The article came amid a barrage of attacks on civil servants working from home from both named and unnamed ministers.
Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg recently wrote to secretaries of state urging them to tell staff to make a “rapid return” to the office, after finding government buildings only partially full.
Most departments have hybrid working arrangements in place, requiring staff to spend a set amount of time in the office – often around two to three days a week.