“People need to get off their Pelotons and back to their desk,” Tory Party Chairman Oliver Dowden has said.
The former culture secretary hit out at civil servants working from home, suggesting they should “lead by example” by returning to the office.
But a union representing mandarins said his comments were an “insult” to dedicated government workers.
Boris Johnson is set to repeat the “get back to work” message in his headline Tory conference speech on Wednesday.
‘Woke-ing from home’
The prime minister’s intervention follows that of a senior northern Tory, who said civil servants must stop “woke-ing from home”.
Berry – chair of the North Research Group – told a fringe event at Tory conference: “We have to end the civil service ‘woke-ing’ from home – sorry I mean working from home, but let’s be honest, it often is woke-ing.”
Dowden’s remarks come after a top civil servant said she preferred working from home because she could spend more time on her pricey Peloton exercise bike.
According to the Daily Mail, Healey – the permanent secretary at Dowden’s former department – told a conference last month: “I have a Peloton and I can just get on my bike whenever I have a teeny bit of time.
“That has been a huge benefit to my well-being, the lack of travelling time eating into my day.”
Dowden – who was moved from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in last month’s reshuffle – said: “I like my permanent secretary at DCMS enormously, Sarah Healey, but I am disagreeing with her on this one.
“I think people need to get off their Pelotons and get back to their desks.”
‘Lead by example’
Speaking at a Daily Telegraph fringe event at the Manchester conference, he added: “People really want the government to lead by example – they want civil servants to get back to work as well. We’ve got to start leading by example on that.
He suggested there were currently more desks occupied at Conservative party headquarters than at his former Whitehall department.
But the First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants, accused Dowden of “hypocrisy”.
“As the civil service, the broader public sector and thousands of companies in the private sector already know, what you deliver is far more important than where it’s delivered from,” FDA general secretary Dave Penman said.
“The pandemic has driven a quiet revolution in working practices that has seen innovation and reform from both the public and private sectors.
“Yet despite the incredible feats performed, ministers continue to want to stand in the way of progress and reform for the sake of a quick headline.”
He added: “The hypocrisy of ministers – who are happy to bank the savings in office space delivered by hybrid working but decry the practice for the party faithful – is frankly insulting to the dedication, professionalism and commitment of hundreds of thousands of public servants.”
Sales of Peloton bikes – which cost £1,750 plus a monthly subscription for online classes – spiked during lockdown.