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Government urged to stop ‘culture war’ against civil servants

Civil service union leader to attack government over civil servants working from home (Joe Giddens/PA)
Civil service union leader to attack government over civil servants working from home (Joe Giddens/PA)

A union leader is calling on the Prime Minister and other members of the Government to stop the “culture war” against civil servants following attacks against their working arrangements.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior staff in the service, attacked the Government for “going to war” with the very people he said were delivering its agenda.

Speaking at the union’s annual conference in London, Mr Penman singled out the Minister for Government Efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg, for his “crass, condescending, passive-aggressive little notes for people who were actually delivering vital public services”.

The minister, who has said civil servants should stop working from home, left a note for civil servants, saying “sorry you were out when I visited”.

The note, printed on government paper with Mr Rees-Mogg’s title, was left at empty desks and read “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”

Mr Penman said it was hard to imagine a time in the FDA’s 100-year history when the union has been needed more by civil servants.

In a message for the Prime Minister, Mr Penman will say: “You say you want a brilliant civil service and you want to attract the brightest and best to join it.

“Well, this is not the way to go about it.

“Challenge us to deliver, be clear about your priorities, but step back and let those whose job it is to run the service get on with it.

“No more micro-managing, no more anonymous briefings.

“You do your job and let the management of the civil service get on with theirs.”

Mr Penman will tell delegates it was good to be meeting in person, adding: “There’s some in government and the press who may doubt that I actually mean that.

“It feels like for the last two years all I’ve ever been asked about is the latest anonymous briefing about civil servants working from home.

“There are some who want to paint a picture of the civil service, and this union, as advocating for 100% home working regardless of the nature of the job.

“There are those who talk about working from home or the office as a binary choice, because that suits their agenda, which has little to do with the best way to run public services.”

Mr Penman will say that while private industry has embraced the “quiet revolution” in working practices over the past two years, delivering efficiencies for employers and greater flexibility for employees, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been “wandering around Whitehall with his clip board and his clicker counting people at desks”.

He will add: “It’s like he doesn’t understand that the majority of civil servants are outside of the M25.

“Tens of thousands of civil servants in those famous red wall seats, all being told to forget about flexible working.”

On public sector pay, Mr Penman will say that applause will not pay gas bills.

“As we face the worst cost-of-living crisis since the 1970s, the response from Government has been simply business as usual for public sector pay.

“Inflation may well hit 10% by the autumn, but in the civil service the Treasury have determined that the going rate for pay rises will be around 2%.

“After a decade of wage freezes followed by caps followed by a pause, civil servants’ salaries have already fallen by 18% in real terms.

“So not only will the Government’s policy result in real hardship this year, the civil service will simply fall further behind the private sector.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary have been clear they want to see office attendance across the civil service consistently back at pre-pandemic levels and we are seeing significant increases in occupancy which continues to be closely monitored.

“There is total agreement across government on there being clear benefits from face-to-face, collaborative working and we know that this is particularly important for the learning and development of new and junior members of staff.”