Ministers have been keen to bang the 'back to the office' drum for much of the past year. But not all in the civil service have been so keen to embrace that message, with Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union, being a staunch defender of mandarins who work from home.
Walking down by the Department of Education on Great Smith Street this morning, Steerpike was struck again by how few civil servants seem to actually be in Whitehall, after a fire alarm forced the entire building to evacuate. A few disconsolate dozens stood around in huddles, with one complaining to Mr S of the 'ghost town' atmosphere of the ministry.
Not for nothing have residents on the street noted that, for much of the pandemic, the only rooms in the building lit up at night were those in the ministerial private offices, where unfortunate Sir Humphreys could be dragooned into coming in by their political masters.
It's not just the mandarins affected – figures published last month by the ministry show how few outside visitors are now being invited into the corridors of power. The annual number of external visitors to Sanctuary Buildings has crashed from 55,076 in 2019 to just 1,808 for the first eleven months of 2021.
While in February 2020 there were 4,345 such visitors, zero were recorded between April to June 2020 – understandable in light of the national lockdown. But even since then, numbers for outside visitors have only slowly ticked up, rising from 43 in May 2021 to 584 in November 2021; barely a tenth of what they were for the same month two years previously.
Given the reluctance of civil servants to use their vast Whitehall building, surely the department is a ripe target for the next tranche of jobs moved out of London?