In Brief

Boris Johnson accused of using Whitehall staff as ‘guinea pigs’ amid coronavirus outbreaks

Officials still working from home despite prime minister’s back-to-office call

Civil servants are in open rebellion against Boris Johnson’s back-to-work plan, following two fresh coronavirus outbreaks in Whitehall.

Senior officials claim their staff are being used as “guinea pigs for the government’s plans to boost the economy by sending people back to their offices”, The Times reports.

Whitehall departments have carried out assessments to establish “how many people can safely return to work”, but bosses “have made clear to their staff that civil servants will not be forced back into the office if they do not want to go”, the newspaper adds.

Indeed, two weeks after the prime minister urged the nation to get back to the office, “hundreds of thousands of government employees are still working from home”, says the Daily Mail

According to an audit by the paper last week, just 2% of staff turned up for work at some ministerial departments, which “are said to be ‘ghost towns’”.

Only 140 officials are reported to have arrived for work at a Whitehall building housing five departments including the Treasury, where a source told the Mail there was “basically no one in apart from Rishi [Sunak]”.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has called on civil servants to “lead by example” and return to offices to save the country from “economic armageddon”.

But such a return looks increasingly unlikely. The Times reports that health officials have been investigating two outbreaks in Whitehall last week: one at the Home Office and the other at the Cabinet Office.

“You can’t experiment and virtue-signal with people’s health,” a source told the paper. “There will be a small increase in numbers. Hopefully, that will see off ministers, and by the time we get further down the track it may be that they’re back working from home again.”

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