Jacob Rees-Mogg’s most recent attack on civil service waste included a now-deleted photo of empty desks within his own department.
The government efficiency minister wrote an article claiming civil service chiefs had “not taking efficiency seriously enough” and were “happy to ignore expensive office buildings that are empty”.
Saying he had been “surprised” at the emptiness of Serious Fraud Office, Mr Rees-Mogg’s article for The Sun originally showed a photo of empty desks with the caption: “Rees-Mogg was stunned to find the Serious Fraud Office empty.”
But the photo, now deleted, was actually of the Cabinet Office. It showed a board on the right-hand wall setting out details for “Cabinet Office Finance”.
A source close to Rees-Mogg told The Independent empty desks were also a problem within the Cabinet Office.
“Empty offices are a problem across all of Whitehall – whether that’s the SFO’s Trafalgar Square HQ lying empty or units within the Cabinet Office,” they said.
Mr Rees-Mogg said the government would be saving money by vacating large Westminster buildings such as 1 Victoria Street and 102 Petty France, as well as moving thousands of civil service jobs out of London.
“This will be good for the country and good for civil servants, too, who can expect a higher quality of life in our great counties and towns,” Mr Rees-Mogg wrote.
The efficiency minister has been criticised for his repeated attacks on civil servants working from home, as he pushes for an end to Covid lockdown-era practices
Rees-Mogg was branded “a bully” and “patronising” after leaving notes on empty desks in an apparent attack on civil servants working from home after restrictions were lifted.
The note read: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon,” and are signed “with every good wish”.
Rees-Mogg recently launched a review of “flexitime” arrangements whereby full-time civil servants can choose which hours to work – saying he was “concerned that too much ‘flexitime’ will keep civil servants from the office”.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s plans to slash 91,000 civil service jobs has faced fresh criticism following a comprehensive review by No 10’s former chief-of-staff.
The PM had insisted that a reduction of civil servants by 20 per cent would allow government to use the money better elsewhere.
However, the Treasury’s confidence in the proposal has reportedly been diminished after a Whitehall review led by Steve Barclay, since it could cost around £1bn in redundancy payments.
A Whitehall insider who had worked on the plans to reduce civil servant jobs by one fifth told the Financial Times a decision without considering cuts to services. “You can only deliver 91,000 cuts by actual cuts to major frontline services,” the insider said.
Dave Penman – general secretary of the FDA union that represents senior civil servants – tweeted: “It’s almost as if cutting a fifth of staff, based on an artificial number devised solely for political headlines that takes no account of current demands on public services is a bad idea.”
Mr Rees-Mogg defended the creation of the Public Sector Fraud Authority (PSFA), launched last week to fight fraud against the public purse and the theft of taxpayers’ money.
He said the new body “shows the good side of the civil service” – costing £11m to run during its first year, with the aim of recovering £180m stolen by fraud.