Jacob Rees-Mogg is right to attack lazy civil servants lounging around at home, it’s a matter of national duty to go back to the office, says Mark Dolan
We only get back to normal, if we get back to work.
We only get back to normal, if we get back to work. Jacob Rees-Mogg a cabinet member who enjoys the optimistic title of Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, has taken the opportunity to gently cajole, or is that troll, members of the civil service to return to the office. Here's the note he has distributed around Whitehall.
Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Not exactly a love note is it? More like a poison pen letter. This ever-polite politician, may have composed this note with elegance and grace, but the message was clear: get your arse back into the office pronto. This guy is not everyone's cup of tea and he's so old-fashioned, he makes the cast of Downton Abbey, look positively contemporary. But he’s an accomplished guy - an investor in the City of London, he knows what can be achieved if you put the hours in at the office. And he is right to attack lazy civil servants, lounging around at home. It’s a matter of national duty to go back to the office. Your country needs you.
The renowned entrepreneur James Dyson who has generated so much wealth for this country, including his annual personal tax bill of 120 million quid, has said that “work from home” has been a disaster for productivity and he estimates it will cost the economy around £12 billion in lost income, not just because people won't use their local Costa or Pret A Manger near work, but because people work less well, have fewer ideas and get less done. Now we have a fantastic public sector, in many ways, world class.
We see that in health, in education, in policing, in the military and across every major department of state. For example, if we hadn’t locked down, we wouldn't have needed furlow, but it's execution was a triumph of policy and delivery.
But public sector workers have an advantage over the private sector. They are less sackable, with invariably better workers’ rights, better pensions and pay grade. If you work for the state, you are paid for by British taxpayers and that is a privilege. And anyone in the public sector, is insulated from the rigorous commercial pressures, faced by private organisations and their employees. Which is why it's something approaching a national scandal, that so many in the public sector, particularly civil servants, are still at home, making cups of tea, caning the custard creams, emptying the tumble dryer and catching the tail end of Loose Women.
Work from home has been a revelation for many people, and if you're in a job that doesn't require your presence in the office, hybrid working, whereby some days you come in and others you work from home, seems perfectly sensible. I'm no Luddite. We cannot and should not undo many of the changes we’ve seen in the last two years. And of course many of them will be positive. And God knows we need to take the positives from the last two years.
Work from home is fantastic for employees with young families – they can drop the kids off to school and pick them up at 3:30 and still get a day’s work done. Great news for people with pets as well – Fido will get his two or three walks a day. And I don't regret anyone saving on commuting costs, plus the stress and time wasted of travelling in and out.
But Rees-Mogg has crunched the numbers, and takes the view that the private sector has achieved a healthy balance between office work and work from home, but the same cannot be said for the likes of the DVLA, who have presided over a colossal backlog of driving licenses waiting to be issued, which is a nightmare for people that need to get on the road and will have a clear economic impact.
And it's just as well but we haven't been allowed to travel much for the last couple of years, because you can't get a passport for love nor money. 60% of our economy is based on consumption, in other words us buying things and consuming them. The businesses clustered around once busy work hubs are withering on the line - empty cafés with dusty glasses and city centre pubs which have only got old Sid, who’s been drinking there for 30 years, propping up the bar. We need to have an honest conversation about work from home, because whilst it suits many, including lots of people watching this programme, it comes at an economic price.
Millions of people working from home is impacting retail and hospitality, both big employers of young people and a source of national income, and it could cause a crash in the value of commercial property. Why should you care if the landlord can't rent out his or her office space? Because there are often big fat mortgages on those properties and many of the pensions upon which we rely, are dependent on income from these office spaces. So an assumption that work from home is only good is deeply naive and frankly dangerous.
In fact, droves of people staying away from the office is an economic race to the bottom. But it's not only about money. We are social creatures - we thrive on interaction. When you go into the office, you can discuss last night’s Eastenders, you can grab the boss for a spontaneous quick word about a new project.
You share ideas with colleagues, you support each other, you laugh, you cry, you buy a cake for Barry in accounts when he turns 50. Work from home is often something akin to slavery in your own house, with no clear delineation of when your work starts and when it finishes. With many chains to the computer for in excess of 10 or 12 hours.
We are in danger of becoming a nation of keyboard monkeys, imprisoned in the gilded cage of our own home. Work from home is still a relatively new experiment and we don't know the long-term mental health and indeed physical health implications, of people just being able to shuffle from the bedroom to the living room as part of their daily commute.
Going to the office gets you out and about and buying a bus or train ticket pays for the transport infrastructure that we all need and expect. So as with so many of the tough choices facing policymakers, you can't have one without the other. You can’t have a thriving economy that pays for a great health service, education, policing, defence and welfare, with millions stuck at home all day long, only going to their front door to collect an Amazon package or a Deliveroo.
And services are a huge sector of our economy, which very often creative and people-lead, another argument for face-to-face meetings and one-on-one collaboration, rather than faceless FaceTime sessions or zooming through an online meeting in your jim-jams.
And don’t let employers fool you they are lovely and caring by letting you work from home. They're saving a fortune on office costs, whilst many workers don't have the resources at home that they would have in the office. The picture presented by the media of work from home has been moccasin-wearing middle-class types, sending emails on a two and a half grand Mac computer, sat on an expensive oak table, in a room which overlooks a sprawling North London Garden. That's not the reality for millions.
More often than not, it’s people in flatshares fighting for the desk space in the kitchen with their cohabitants. It’s working parents trying to check a company report with kids screaming in the background and CBeebies blaring.
Some people don't even have a proper desk or chair to work on, or they’ve got crappy broadband or a bad computer. And a lot of accommodation in this country is substandard - leaky ceilings, plumbing up the creek, a boiling hot flat in the summer, or a freezing one in the winter and don't get me started on how the shocking cost of energy will impact those for whom home is now their workplace. Big difference between headting the house all day and just having it on for a few hours in the evening.
And notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of lockdown – you know my views – it's been abundantly clear but it doesn't do us any good to be on our own and disconnected from the outside world. And further isolation and the daily reality of inhabiting a digital world, risks further amplifying the power of social media and the group thing echo chambers, their algorithms are carefully crafted to create.
Stuck online for hours every day for months and years on end is not going to be great for human psychology and will exacerbate the toxic divide our society is now faced with, played out in a virtual universe of twitter and facebook, but real just the same. And of course numpties like Klaus Schwab from the world economic Forum want to see society disbanded altogether and have us live a this hellish dystopian digital universe.
Why? Because when you separate people you can control them, brainwash them, bully them.
And it's only when people come together like in the workplace, or socially as we did after lockdown, that people power is at its most potent. If we're going to rehabilitate our economy and heal our divided society, we must come together.
We must become a community again. And it starts in the office, or on the factory floor. We are better together. It's time for Britain to wake up and smell the coffee and get back to the office.
Work from home has now become so normalised it's got its own acronym: WFH. But as far as I'm concerned, it's more like WTF. Excuse my French.