Whitehall departments are 'ghost towns' with civil servants at home

Revealed: Government departments are ‘ghost towns’ with hundreds of thousands of civil servants continuing to work from home despite ministers telling Britons to get back to the office

  • Departments on Whitehall stand almost empty as civil servants work from home 
  • Just 145 people were observed arriving for work at 800,000sq/ft Home Office
  • Boris Johnson urged workers to get back to the office to save economy two weeks ago
  • Iain Duncan Smith called on civil servants to ‘lead by example’ and return

Hundreds of thousands of civil servants are still working from home two weeks after Boris Johnson urged workers to get back to the office to help save the economy.

Ministerial departments in Whitehall are said to be ‘ghost towns’ with some seeing just 2 per cent of staff arriving at work this week, according to an audit by the Daily Mail.

Just a few dozen staff were seen entering the offices of the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions each day. The once bustling offices can hold a total of 3,500 employees.

Meanwhile just 140 arrived at a 100-year-old Whitehall building that houses five departments – including the Treasury where a source claimed there was ‘basically no one in apart from Rishi’.

Ministerial departments in Whitehall are said to be ‘ghost towns’ with some seeing just 2 per cent of staff arriving at work this week. Pictured: A woman arrives at HM Treasury

Last night former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith called on civil servants to ‘lead by example’ and return to offices to save the country from ‘economic Armageddon’.

On July 17, the Prime Minister announced an end to the Government’s work from home guidance which comes into effect today. He called for employees to return to their desks and pressed on with this yesterday despite delaying other lockdown easing measures.

There are growing fears that city centre shops and eateries – which rely on office workers – face ruin if more employees do not return.

Yet the majority of the Government’s own 430,000-strong Whitehall workforce is still working from home. Although departments have space for 30 per cent of staff to return, the Cabinet Office admitted that only one in five civil servants are at the offices.


Just a few dozen staff were seen entering the offices of the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions each day. The once bustling offices can hold a total of 3,500 employees

The Daily Mail monitored Whitehall departments between 7.15am and 11am this week and found that even this low estimate appeared generous.

Only 34 people were seen turning up to the Department for Education offices – which could hold up to 2,000 staff pre-pandemic – on Thursday morning. This would equate to under 2 per cent of its London staff.

The Mail also observed just 50 people entering the headquarters of the Department for Work and Pensions at Caxton House in London on Wednesday.

Even fewer arrived on Thursday – a total of 31 – which is fewer than 2 per cent of the 1,700 staff members who usually worked there.

A DWP spokesman said some may have arrived by bike at the side entrance and that many were keen to return to their desks.

Meanwhile, at the 800,000-square-foot Home Office, just 145 people were observed entering the main entrance – which the majority of its staff are understood to use – on Wednesday morning.

Just a few dozen staff were seen entering the offices of the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions each day. The once bustling offices can hold a total of 3,500 employees

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen who visited the office, which also houses the Department for Environment, recently said: ‘It was deserted. My flat in Westminster is a stone’s throw from the Home Office. The shops, the streets and all the pubs are open but it’s a ghost town. They’re all empty.’

Meanwhile, a civil servant at the Treasury told the Mail there was ‘basically no one in apart from Rishi’ at the vast building that once held over 1,200 of its staff.

The Treasury’s offices also house 880 employees from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and hundreds more from three other departments.

But the Mail observed just 144 people – including visitors and workmen – going through the entrance on Wednesday and 137 on Thursday.

It is understood Treasury staff are limited by the fact that there are only enough toilets for a quarter of them to socially distance.

A Cabinet Office source said there had been ‘reinvigorated efforts to get people back in’. But a Whitehall source last night said: ‘Westminster is a ghost town. Most departments have been almost empty for months. There does not appear to be a rush of people wanting to come back.’

Last night Mr Duncan Smith said that workers are receiving mixed messages about returning to the office. He added: ‘We need to have a settled message – and the key people that can start that is civil servants. We need them to lead the way.’

The PCS union, which represents civil servants, has threatened industrial action if workers are ordered back to their desks to clear backlogs in public services.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said ministers will face ‘serious industrial unrest’ if they tell their staff to return.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘Civil servants have worked throughout the pandemic and have made significant, valuable contributions towards the national effort. We are ensuring workplaces are Covid-secure so civil servants can return safely.’

The Department for Culture said that the majority of its workers plan to return to the London office from September.

Additional reporting: Glen Keogh, Kamal Sultan, Neil Sears and Claudia Joseph

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