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No Going Back? UK Government Tries And Fails To Get Everyone Back To The Office

Nobody there … many public sector workplaces are barely occupied.

How can you tell when the government's back-to-the-office policy isn't working? Answer: When the government's own offices are largely empty.

Six months ago the UK government was promising to enshrine a legal right to work-from-home in its new Employment Bill.

Today government policy has U-turned and is heading in the other direction.

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has lambasted civil servants for widespread work-from-home, and that the Employment Bill has been shelved.

The about-turn comes as alarm mounts over the scale of the workplace allergy among white-collar staff, and as some previously large space users rethink (and shrink) their requirements.

A league table of government departments revealed that roughly two-thirds of staff were staying away from work at several government departments. The Department of Education was missing 75% of staff in the week beginning 4 April, with the Department of Work and Pensions not seeing 73% and the Foreign Office recording 61% working from home, The Telegraph reported.

In other departments the majority of staff were making it into the office, with the Department of Health scoring 72% attendance. Civil service unions blamed school holidays.

The moves come as Deloitte cuts its central London requirement by around one-third. The firm will surrender 250K SF and retain 485K SF, according to The Times.

Deloitte is also shrinking its Manchester requirement. The firm surprised the market by being one of the first into flexible workspace in a deal with WeWork in November 2020.

The move saw Deloitte abandon its 67K SF Hardman Street offices for around 35K SF at the Hanover Building, Corporation Street. The firm is now working on a longer-term Manchester requirement of roughly the same size to accommodate around 800 staff. The assumption is that work-from-home will drastically cut floorspace requirements.

The London office lettings market was the first to recover from the pandemic, but even in the capital volumes have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The latest JLL data suggested the market is undershooting long-term leasing averages by around 13%.

The Employment Bill was trailed as providing a right to request home working, with flexible working regarded as the default position. A consultation ended on 1 December 2021 and according to the government, the responses are still being analysed.

However, the bill will not appear in next month’s Queens Speech, meaning changes to the current rules seem unlikely, The Financial Times reported.

This is the second year the bill has been dropped. It was first announced in 2019.