Civil servants must save Britain’s High Streets by getting back to the office

Critics have called on civil servants to lead by example and save Britain’s high streets by getting back to the office. 

City centres are facing financial ruin after officer workers were told to continue working from until next summer, despite the easing of lockdown.

There are fears that such a move could spell disaster for shops, bars and restaurants that are reliant on trade from commuters and office workers. 

The Home Office has already indicated to staff in Whitehall it could be 12 months until they are back in the office, while only 30 staff have returned to the Westminster office of the business department, a tiny fraction of its workforce. 

The business department is tasked with kick-starting the economy and critics have called on ministers to lead by example and get civil servants back in the office, or risk stalling any economic recovery. 

Only 30 staff have returned to the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy building in Westminster, a tiny portion

It follows the government’s decision last week to relax its two-metre social distancing rule to one metre. 

Theresa Villiers, the former Conservative cabinet minister, told the Sunday Times: ‘The government should lead by example and ensure many more civil servants return to Whitehall. 

‘Thousands of shops and small businesses in our city centres depend on people heading back to their workplace. Let’s get on with it.’ 

However, Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office, last month told staff they were unlikely to return to Whitehall soon: ‘For most, it is likely that this situation will remain the case for the next six to 12 months, so if you are currently working from home you should not expect to be back in your usual workplace any time soon.’

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said he was keen to bring staff back to the office on a staggered basis. He presides over around 250 civil servants. 

Lucille Thirlby, assistant general secretary of the FDA union, said civil servants had proved they were capable of working ‘efficiently and effectively’ from home.

Theresa Villiers, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said: 'The government should lead by example and ensure many more civil servants return to Whitehall'

Theresa Villiers, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said: ‘The government should lead by example and ensure many more civil servants return to Whitehall’

However, Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office (pictured in Westminster), last month told staff they were unlikely to return to Whitehall soon

However, Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office (pictured in Westminster), last month told staff they were unlikely to return to Whitehall soon

The Cabinet Office said: ‘Like employers across the UK, the civil service will continue to follow the latest government guidance to keep staff healthy and safe in any further return to workplaces.’ 

Presently, official advice is that you should ‘work from home if you can’.

However, with schools set to finally reopen in September, non-essential shops open from June 15 and pubs and restaurants open from July 4, there is a feeling that Britain is getting ‘back to normal’, with civil servants urged to lead the way.

Dominic Cummings’ long-running war with the Civil Service  

Dominic Cummings has written prolific blogs on government over years that give a glimpse into his thinking.

In June last year, shortly before joining Mr Johnson at No10, he penned a 10,000-word post calling for an end to the ‘Kafka-esque’ influence of civil servants on politicians.

He proposed creating independent ‘Red Teams’ to challenge official advice to ministers – who would be rewarded for overturning the orthodoxy.  

Mr Cummings has previously slammed support for ministers as ‘extremely bureaucratic and slow’ and said the civil service had presided over ‘expensive debacle after expensive debacle’. 

He dismissed Westminster as ‘the blind leading the blind’, saying that for top mandarins ‘management, like science, is regarded contemptuously as something for the lower orders to think about, not the ”strategists” at the top’.

Mr Cummings has been upsetting the Westminster establishment for years. 

He memorably nicknamed the educational establishment ‘the blob’ when he was adviser to Mr Gove at the Department for Education. 

In 2014, David Cameron reportedly branded him a ‘career psychopath’, and Mr Cummings resigned from government and accused him of ‘bumbling from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose’.

Mr Cummings described Lib Dem former deputy PM Nick Clegg as ‘a revolting character’, which triggered Mr Clegg to dismiss him as a ‘loopy ideologue’. 

It comes as Intu properties, the owner of Manchester’s Trafford Centre among several of Britain’s biggest shopping centres, collapsed into administration, while popular coffee chain Pret A Manger revealed that takings have plummeted since it reopened.    

The Civil Service has repeatedly come under fire in recent days after Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings was reported to have warned that a ‘hard rain’ was coming.

Mr Johnson is also set to axe the head of the civil service and could replace him with a captain of industry or other non-Whitehall figure as he plots sweeping changes at the heart of the Government machine

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill is set to be ousted – perhaps as soon as tomorrow after he was accused of lacking the skills to deal with the coronavirus crisis. 

No10 has been revealed as plotting a raft of wide-ranging reform as ministers seek to pin the blame for pandemic failures on departmental figures and scientists. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel stokes the fires this morning when, asked about Sir Mark’s future, would not guarantee his job was safe.

He was appointed National Security Adviser by Theresa May in 2017 and made Cabinet Secretary a year later – and was allowed to do both jobs despite criticism.

A source told The Sunday Telegraph that Sir Mark is ‘fighting to stay as National Security Adviser’ and is resigned to losing his post as Cabinet Secretary.

They said: ”He is fighting to keep the national security one but they want to take everything off him and give him a non-job.’

And another source told the Sunday Times: ‘One option is to appoint someone from the business world.’

Appearing on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday today, Ms Patel said: ‘Reform of the Civil Service is a matter that gets discussed in Government and obviously a big role like that is subject to the Prime Minister. 

‘But I think the fact of the matter is right now, this government is focused on getting on and doing its job; delivering for the country, levelling-up in the way in which we spoke about earlier on on the economic agenda, focussing on social injustice. 

‘This is the people’s government delivering on the people’s priorities and effectively, any reforming government will be based around the type of delivery that our Prime Minister wants to drive for our great country and obviously have the right kind of support around him to deliver that.’

Mr Cummings, the chief architect of the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum, is preparing to take an axe to the Civil Service after the coronavirus exposed ‘fundamental’ flaws in the government machine.

He is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office will be stripped of powers after being found wanting during the crisis.

There were even claims of a bruising exchange between the PM and Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill at a meeting on the lockdown ‘exit strategy’ recently. 

The Cabinet Office has been criticised for being unwieldy, unfocused and unresponsive to political pressure as ministers have attempted to avoid crises on personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilator shortages.