Civil servants have been given the green light to work remotely overseas, prompting concerns that some will choose to log in “from the beach”.
Staff at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Desnz) are among those who can apply to work abroad for a maximum of two weeks a year while visiting friends and family overseas.
The senior civil servants’ FDA union has repeatedly argued that many of its members have connections outside the UK and should be eligible for “international remote working” for the benefit of their “family life”.
The decision, which sources said allows staff to work away from home for up to five days at a time, comes months after ministers resisted plans to let civil servants work from abroad.
The bosses of government departments have long been calling for staff to be allowed to work overseas “for personal reasons” rather than having to take annual leave.
It is understood that some departments have found it difficult to recruit workers with the required level of expertise, partly because other sectors offer higher wages and more flexibility.
Relaxing the rules on overseas working marks a victory for public sector staff, although it is not clear how lenient ministers will be in practice as insiders said applications would be subject to “stringent legal and security requirements”.
Greg Smith, Tory MP for Buckingham, said: “Hard-pressed taxpayers will be raising eyebrows across the country at the thought of civil servants kicking back, sipping cocktails on the beach whilst delivering public services.
“We need civil servants in Whitehall, in their offices, delivering on the priorities of this Government, not saying they’re working, from the beach – we all know the reality of that. Just doing your day job from the beach is preposterous.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, added: “This is absolutely stark raving bonkers. I’ve never heard something more idiotic, stupid and pointless for a long, long time.
“Working from overseas? I mean really? By the beach perhaps? In the sea? On a holiday? Really? If the Civil Service chiefs think that is sensible, then we need a complete clearout. You’ve got to ask yourself, of course, it’s not their money, it’s the taxpayers’ money, so they don’t care. Just bonkers.”
The change emerged just days after the Cabinet Office told senior managers to work from the office more than 60 per cent of the time to promote “strong visible leadership” to junior staff and boost productivity.
It means public sector staff will likely no longer be able to work in the office only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, a pattern which has grown in popularity and is widely known under the acronym “TWaT”. Around a million fewer passengers are now travelling on Transport for London (TfL) services on both Mondays and Fridays than before the pandemic.
A government spokesman said that civil servants are “not allowed to work remotely overseas unless there are exceptional circumstances” adding that “we have always been clear on the benefits of collaborative face-to-face working”.