Welsh Government considers reducing office space as remote working dominates

Written by Tevye Markson on 7 December 2022 in News
News

Data shows only about one in 10 officials is now in the office on any given day

Credit: Firmbee/Pixabay

The Welsh Government is planning to offer office space to other public bodies after a post-Covid pivot towards flexible working that has led to only around one in 10 civil servants working from the office on an average day.

In October, 11% of employees with office-based contracts were in the office on a given day, the Welsh Government said in response to a Freedom of Information request. This was a slight increase on 10.4% daily average attendance in September for the 10 offices measured.

The Welsh Government said earlier this year it wants to be "an exemplar for remote working", aiming to have no more than 50% of staff to be working from any of its government office at any one time.

Its remote-working strategy, published in March, explicitly stated that the government will not ask civil servants to return to pre-pandemic office attendance levels, in stark contrast to the UK government's post-Covid response.

The Welsh Government plans to review its future requirements for office space as and when leases expire. And it is now in talks with a number of bodies about its surplus office space.


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A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Having the flexibility of office, remote and hybrid working brings benefits for local economies, businesses, individuals, and the environment. These flexibilities increase productivity, improve work life balance, and deliver less air and noise pollution. Our vision is to maximise the benefits of office, remote and hybrid working for our people and organisation. We want to support our staff to retain the benefits of remote-working while also enabling them to come together in an office environment to connect and collaborate in person.”

The FoI response included data for July, August and September. The highest daily attendance rate in September was at Caernarfon (13.8%), with the lowest at Carmarthen (7%).

Taking a very different view to the Welsh Labour administration, the Conservative UK government has frequently been critical of civil servants working from home, particularly under Boris Johnson’s leadership.

The former prime minister said working from home “does not work” earlier this year, with his government aiming to return office attendance to pre-Covid levels. His then-government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg regularly attacked home working.

In April, Rees-Mogg ordered ministers to “accelerate the return of civil servants to office buildings” and showed up at offices leaving notes on empty desks. At the time, UK departments had much higher average attendances – 44% overall at that time – than the Welsh Government has now.  

The former minister also set up attendance monitoring at UK department headquarters to encourage higher in-office levels. Current average daily attendance in UK HQs ranges from 44% at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to 93% at the Ministry of Defence, averaging at 67%.

The Conservative leader in the Senedd has also taken a less flexible view than the Welsh Government administration. Andrew Davies said it was "concerning just how few civil servants are in the office to ensure the smooth running of government operations in Wales".

The Whitehall back-to-office drive has extended to UK government staff based outside England. In May, the government was accused by unions of ignoring public health guidance after HM Revenue and Customs demanded its Wales-based staff return to their offices within weeks.

However, today the government took steps towards enshrining flexible working rights for employees across the country, announcing it would introduce legislation giving workers the right to request flexible working from the moment they start a job.

 

About the author

Tevye Markson is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @TevyeMarkson.

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