MOS COMMENT: WFH s a bad habit. And it's ruining the economy

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Working from home is a bad habit. And it’s ruining the economy

As the Government’s Efficiency Minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg has the vital and uncomfortable task of trying to get thousands of civil servants back to working in their taxpayer-funded offices. Today in The Mail on Sunday, he explains why this aim is good, just and necessary.

He rightly praises those who have never had any choice: the cleaners and security staff who have been at their posts every day because they could not otherwise do their jobs; the scientists who developed the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine; those who managed the miracle of furlough and kept the Universal Credit system flowing. 

And he explains why actually being present in a place of work is so useful, the informal chats that often solve tough problems, or prevent them from developing at all.

He reveals the astonishing growth in the numbers of civil servants in the past seven years and reminds us of the huge costs of maintaining empty offices in the capital. Britain 50 years ago learned the hard lesson that inefficiency and low standards can be protected for only so long. 

The daily discipline of work has for long been an important part of civilised societies. The days of the factory hooter may have gone, but there are still plenty of alarm clocks (or alarm settings on smartphones) in regular operation (file photo)

Eventually they destroyed the industries that tolerated them. Something similar will surely happen to a public sector that forgets that it relies on the taxes of people who have no choice about where they work.

Of course there have been some benefits, in public and private sectors, from a new willingness to allow working from home in some circumstances. It can reduce costs for companies that no longer need to maintain such large premises. But this cuts both ways. 

Landlords of office buildings are part of the economy, helping, for instance, to sustain the pension funds so many of us rely on, and if they suffer, the economy eventually suffers too. The same is true of the many small businesses that serve urban office workers, especially cafes and shops.

Mr Rees-Mogg says the private sector seems to have ‘come to a reasonable equilibrium on home working’, but is this right? The after-effects of the pandemic still seem to persist in many areas. City centres are recovering only slowly. 

Many sectors suffer frequently from staff shortages that may possibly be connected with Covid precautions. It is by no means clear that the nation is fully back at work, even though, in England at least, the last restrictions have been lifted.

The daily discipline of work has for long been an important part of civilised societies. The days of the factory hooter may have gone, but there are still plenty of alarm clocks (or alarm settings on smartphones) in regular operation. Work is the heartbeat of the economy. And the economy is not just an abstract idea. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured on March 18) explains why actually being present in a place of work is so useful, the informal chats that often solve tough problems, or prevent them from developing at all

It is the person who works at the coffee shop, who can pay her rent because of her customers, who are there because they have come to work in the city. It is the taxes they all pay, which provide the buildings and the salaries for the civil servants, and which also pay for the NHS, the schools, the police, the Armed Forces, the roads and the railways. The busier we all are, and the more we buy from each other, the more prosperous we all are.

Millions of us have had a temporary break from this routine, thanks to Covid measures, and many have understandably enjoyed the chance to spend more time at home and less on crowded trains and congested roads. But this pause must now end.

The reason for it is more or less gone. We must get back into the habit of work, for in the end it is essential for the health, wellbeing and security of the nation, and good for us too.

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