Defiant civil servants union boss hits back at Boris Johnson’s call to return to the office


A defiant civil service union boss has hit back at Boris Johnson’s call to return to the office by accusing the Prime Minister of trying to shame government workers back to desks.

Mr Johnson last night set a target of four in five workers to return to Whitehall each week by the end of the month, with mandarins also providing weekly figures on staff numbers to monitor progress.

However, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents managers and professionals in public service, said there has been an ‘industrial revolution’ towards home working.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents managers and professionals in public service, said there has been an ‘industrial revolution’ towards home working

Covid shifts to the young: Two-thirds of UK’s new infections are in the under-40s

Two-thirds of new coronavirus infections in the UK are in the under-40s, while the rate among older people has fallen sharply in an ‘extraordinary’ shift.

The number of over-50s testing positive for Covid-19 now represents just a fifth of those nationwide, compared with three quarters in the spring.

Just three per cent are now made up of those over 80, down from 28 per cent six months ago, reported The Times.

The peak age range for infections is now in the 20s but for most of the pandemic it was in the 80s – sparking hope further restrictions can be reduced because it seems older people are voluntarily shielding.

One Government adviser has suggested a Swedish-style effort to keep workplaces open while advising older people to stay at home.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, University College London, told BBC Radio 4: ‘This is indeed a critical moment. If you look at the data from PHE across the country, we are now seeing the highest number of detected infections in younger people aged 20-29 and also going up to 45.

‘On the one hand, the good news is we aren’t at the moment seeing the uptick in cases in hospitals and in deaths but of course that reflects where the transmission is going on.’

She added that it would be ‘incredibly important’ to continue to tell young people about the risks of transmitting coronavirus.

He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘If you look at what’s happened over the last six months, as well as transforming themselves into home-based service, the civil service has had to transform its priorities. 

‘It had to deal with a six-fold increase in Universal Credit, had to develop the furlough scheme to support nine million workers, all while it was 95% home-based. I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to suggest it’s less effective.

‘Do you think you’re going to lecture the private sector about what’s efficient? Are they simply going to say ‘this has been working, but because civil servants are coming back into Whitehall, we’re going to tell our staff they’ve got to come back even though it’s working for us now’?

‘This idea that the government is going to lecture the private sector about what’s good for it, and virtue signal with the civil service is a fool’s errand. 

‘There has been this industrial revolution and ministers have just let that pass them by and instead have these pronouncements on high, dreaming of rotas in cabinet about how civil servants are going to get back to the office.’  

Mr Penman also accused the government of trying to ‘shame’ workers through coverage of how few have been commuting in to return to desks via the media. 

The Prime Minister’s drive is part of a desperate bid to rescue the economy, during a year in which GDP has plummeted as a result of the crisis. 

At the beginning of lockdown there were 423,000 civil servants employed full time by Whitehall departments.

Permanent secretaries were given instructions last night to ‘move quickly’ to ‘bring more staff back into the office’, taking advantage of the return to schools and increased public transport services.

In a letter to all Whitehall ministries and seen by the Mail, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief Alex Chisholm said the Prime Minister has ‘made clear his aim is to get as many people back to workplaces as possible’ in a safe way.

At a Cabinet meeting earlier this week, they said ministers had agreed that ‘increasing both the number of people in the office and the amount of time those people spend in the office’ would be ‘hugely beneficial’ for the civil service.

‘The Prime Minister is also clear that getting more people back into work in a Covid secure way will improve the public services we deliver, and will also provide a significant boost to the local economies where they are based,’ they added.

The Prime Minister set a target of four in five workers to return to Whitehall each week by the end of the month

The Prime Minister set a target of four in five workers to return to Whitehall each week by the end of the month

A graph shows how the United Kingdom's GDP has plummeted this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

A graph shows how the United Kingdom’s GDP has plummeted this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

The letter warned that the huge numbers of civil servants working from home had led to a ‘reduced level of social interaction among our colleagues, with the loss of some of the spontaneous interaction and cross fertilisation between teams that drives innovation and sustained common purpose’.

It added: ‘There have also been challenges with bringing on board new or inexperienced colleagues and limitations in the ability to mentor and develop our people.

‘In short, it is the Government’s view that on the whole there are significant benefits to be gained from working collaboratively in an office environment and where possible colleagues should now return to the office in line with Covid-secure levels.’

The civil service heads said the aim is for 80 per cent of staff to ‘attend their usual workplace each week’ by using a rota system that will see some come in for only two or three days. 

In a letter to all Whitehall ministries Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief Alex Chisholm said the Prime Minister's 'aim is to get as many people back to workplaces as possible' in a safe way

In a letter to all Whitehall ministries Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief Alex Chisholm said the Prime Minister’s ‘aim is to get as many people back to workplaces as possible’ in a safe way

The push is a victory for the Mail, which has called for more civil servants to go back to their desks to set an example for the rest of the country. 

In a sign that action is finally being taken, Home Office staff were told yesterday that they would be expected back promptly.

The department’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said it would enable them to carry out a ‘full and effective performance’.

The Mail has continued to monitor staffing levels across Whitehall, with as few as 5 per cent of staff turning up to work at ministries this week.

As millions of pupils returned to classrooms this week, it was likely to be a busy week at the offices of the Department for Education, which accommodated up to 2,000 staff before the pandemic.

Yet only 103 staff arrived at its seven-floor headquarters on Tuesday and 120 on Thursday – accounting for just six per cent of capacity. 

At the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where 1,800 staff usually work, the number of staff just broke into triple figures. 

EXCERPTS FROM THE LETTER 

Dear Colleagues 

The Prime Minister is clear that getting more people back into work in a Covid-secure way will improve the public services we deliver, and will also provide a significant boost to the local economies where they are based.

We have seen a reduced level of social interaction among our colleagues, with the loss of some of the spontaneous interaction and cross-fertilisation between teams that drives innovation and sustained common purpose. 

There have also been challenges with bringing on board new or inexperienced colleges and limitations in the ability to mentor and develop our people, particularly those earlier in their careers. This is reportedly most acute for those without easy access to high-quality home-working facilities, for those in rented accommodation and for younger colleagues earlier in their careers. 

In short, it is the Government’s view that on the whole there are significant benefits to be gained from working collaboratively in an office environment and – where possible – colleagues should now return to the office in line with Covid-secure levels.

Alex Chisholm

Civil Service Chief Operating Officer

Sir Mark Sedwill

Cabinet Secretary 

Lockdown-free Sweden’s coronavirus case rate is now lower than Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway with just 12 new infections per million people over the past week

Lockdown-free Sweden saw its coronavirus case rate drop below its Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway today to just 12 new infections per million people over the past week.

In comparison, Norway saw 14 new infections per million people, and Denmark saw 18, meaning Sweden had an average case rate over seven days lower than its neighbours for the first time since March.

‘Sweden has gone from being one of the countries with the most infection in Europe, to one of those with the least infection in Europe,’ the country’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at a press conference earlier this week.

Meanwhile, ‘many other countries have seen a rather dramatic increase,’ he added. 

At the height of the pandemic, Sweden’s infection rate dwarfed that of its neighbours, who did implement a lockdown.

For the first time since March, Sweden's infection rater per million people (12) dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark (18) and Norway (14)

For the first time since March, Sweden’s infection rater per million people (12) dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark (18) and Norway (14)

At the height of its pandemic (pictured in April), Sweden chose not to lock-down. Now, for the first time since March, its infection rate per one million people has dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway

At the height of its pandemic (pictured in April), Sweden chose not to lock-down. Now, for the first time since March, its infection rate per one million people has dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway

At its peak on June 19, Sweden was seeing 108 new infections per million people, compared to Denmark and Norway’s eight and three respectively.

The number of deaths in Sweden is now averaging at two to three per day, compared to a peak of over a hundred per-day it suffered in mid-April.

Furthermore, its capital Stockholm, the epicentre of Sweden’s pandemic during the peak months of April and May, registered its lowers number of cases since March last week.

In Stockholm, 250 of 14,000 people tested last week were infected with the virus, a positive rate of 1.8 percent. 

Meanwhile, Denmark registered 179 new cases on Friday, its highest daily total for more than four months. 

To add to positive signs in Sweden, a test last week of 2,500 randomly selected people found not one had coronavirus. 

In comparison, in a similar test, 0.9 per cent were found to have the virus at the end of April and 0.3 per cent at the end of May.

Announcing the results on Thursday, Dr Tegnell’s deputy at the Public Health Agency of Sweden, Karin Tegmark Wisell, said: ‘We interpret this as meaning there is not currently a widespread infection among people who do not have symptoms.’

Lockdown-free Sweden has been controversial for its liberal attitude to controlling the pandemic, preferring instead to let run through the population to create a ‘herd immunity’. 

But the country’s latest figures may silence some of its critics, and will come as a relief to those who advocated for the approach and came under fire in May as the country saw the highest per-capita death rate in the world for a period. 



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