Jacob Rees-Mogg’s crusade to get civil servants back into the office took an unexpected turn for the worst after it transpired that a Sun article highlighting a room of empty desks was actually taken in his own department.
The Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency wrote an article claiming civil service chiefs had “not taking efficiency seriously enough” and were “happy to ignore expensive office buildings that are empty”.
Saying he had been “surprised” at the emptiness of Serious Fraud Office, Rees-Mogg’s article for The Sun originally showed a photo of empty desks with the caption: “Rees-Mogg was stunned to find the Serious Fraud Office empty.”
But the photo, now deleted, was actually of the Cabinet Office. It showed a board on the right-hand wall setting out details for “Cabinet Office Finance”.
Earlier this year Rees-Mogg issued a call for the “rapid return” of civil servants to their Whitehall desks.
In a letter to Cabinet ministers, he said they needed to issue a “clear message” to their departments that with the end of Covid restrictions in England, officials should be back in the office.
He argued that ending working from home would bring the benefits of “face-to-face, collaborative working” as well as delivering wider benefits for the economy.
With up to three-quarters of staff still reportedly working from home, Mr Rees-Mogg accompanied his letter with a league table showing how many staff in each Government department were attending the office on an average day.
“Now that we are learning to live with Covid and have lifted all legal restrictions in England, we must continue to accelerate the return of civil servants to office buildings to realise the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working and the wider benefits for the economy.
“To deliver this, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, and I, urge you to issue a clear message to civil servants in your department to ensure a rapid return to the office.”
A note left by Rees-Mogg for civil servants who aren’t at their desks made the rounds on social media.
It reads: “Sorry you were out when I visited.
“I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”