‘Condescending’: Jacob Rees-Mogg leaves notes for WFH civil servants

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been called “condescending” after leaving notes deemed to be passive-aggressive on civil servants’ desks in an effort to stop them working from home.

As part of his campaign to push workers back into offices, the cabinet minister has toured Whitehall buildings and published a league table of government departments based on how many staff are present.

It has now emerged he also distributed printed cards, which have been left on empty desks in the Cabinet Office department where he is based.

The notes, complete with an official government crest, said: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish, Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s printed note to civil servants who aren’t at their desks. Photograph: @dinosofos/Twitter

The Conservative MP is the minister of state for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, a new role created for him. The job gives him a seat at the cabinet table and puts him in charge of civil service reform but leaves him without a department to lead.

Last week Rees-Mogg wrote to fellow cabinet ministers demanding they issue a “clear message to civil servants in your department to ensure a rapid return to the office”.

Pro-government newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have also been pushing staff to return to their workplaces following two years when many office workers stayed at home owing to the pandemic.

Although Rees-Mogg’s messages were distributed to civil servants last week, they only became public after a photograph of one note was posted on Twitter by podcast producer Dino Sofos.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union, which represents civil servants, said the notes were “the most crass, condescending act I’ve seen from a minister”.

He has said there was no rationale for Rees-Mogg’s fixation on forcing people to start commuting again: “Ministers’ obsession with ending flexible working and micromanaging the civil service increasingly just looks vindictive.”

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Penman said the government was “sounding like luddites, while the rest of the economy is embracing hybrid working”. Many civil service staff already share desks while flexible working had been relatively common before the pandemic.

Rees-Mogg has argued that pushing civil servants back into the office would help realise the “benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working and the wider benefits for the economy”.

There is some evidence that working from home has caused problems for the functioning of government during the pandemic. Raphael Marshall, the whistleblower who laid bare the government’s mishandling of last August’s Afghan crisis, said in evidence to parliament that staff shortages at the Foreign Office “were exacerbated by some staff working from home, which hampered communication”.

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