Should people who work from home effectively have their pay cut and lose their London allowance?
Government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has called on the 110,000 civil servants working in London to end working from home and get back to their desks in Whitehall.
Mr Rees-Mogg has written to Cabinet ministers calling on them to issue a clear message to staff about a "rapid return to the office" and has been leaving notes in empty Whitehall workspaces with the message: "I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon."
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries accused Mr Rees-Mogg, the minister responsible for government efficiency, of a “Dickensian” approach to the issue.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson supported Mr Rees-Mogg’s efforts.
"What the minister is seeking to achieve is to do everything possible to get the civil service to return to the pre-pandemic level,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
"That is what he is seeking to do. That is supported by the Cabinet Secretary and obviously the Prime Minister."
Asked if the notes left on desks by Mr Rees-Mogg were helpful, the spokesman said Mr Johnson “supports any initiative that encourages people to return to pre-pandemic working”.
“We are not talking about putting an end to flexible working, which continues to have a place in the modern workplace, we are talking about returning to pre-pandemic use of taxpayer-funded departmental buildings.”
The Times reported that Ms Dorries’ response was highly critical of Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach.
Mr Rees-Mogg presented figures to Cabinet last week showing that some Government departments were using as little as 25% of office capacity in early April – the figure for Ms Dorries’ Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was 43%.
Unions have objected to Mr Rees-Mogg’s approach, with warnings his stance is damaging civil service morale.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, warned that “good people will leave and the civil service brand is trashed in a highly competitive employment market”.
Mr Rees-Mogg used a Mail on Sunday article to warn that officials may lose the London weighting on their pay or see their jobs moved elsewhere if they were not at their desks.
“Essentially, if people are not back in their office it will be fair to assume that the job does not need to be in London,” he said.