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The Government is urging Britons to return to their workplace after months spent working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. Boris Johnson is set to launch a major drive to persuade more people to return as concerns grow over the blow to struggling town and city centres. Environment Secretary George Eustice backed his party’s call but was confronted over his own department’s contribution on talkRADIO.
Mr Eustice has said: “Our message this week is that the guidance is there for employers. People can work safely in an office environment and we want to encourage those conversations to take place.”
Host Julia Hartley-Brewer asked what percentage of the civil servants and the staff in the Environment Department were back in the workplace.
The minister told her: “I’ve had a team of civil servants working very hard throughout this pandemic. I’ve certainly been back in the office, in DEFRA, supported by staff on a daily basis.”
Ms Hartley-Brewer asked again what percentage of his staff were back in the office to which Mr Eustice said they didn’t have a target.
The radio host assured that she hadn’t been asking what the target was, but what percentage of staff were back in the office.
The MP said: “Our target is to make sure it’s a safe environment for people to get back.”
Again, Ms Hartley-Brewer repeated to question to which Mr Eustice said that because it was a bank holiday it would be “very few” at the moment.
The talkRADIO presenter sighed and asked how many people were back in the office on the Friday before bank holiday, which the Cabinet member admitted he didn’t know.
The host said: “You’re the Environment Secretary, and you don’t know how many staff in the Environment department are in the office?”
Mr Eustice admitted he didn’t know “precisely”, but his interviewer said she only wanted a “rough idea”.
Ms Hartley-Brewer told her guest: “Surely you must have conversations with your Permanent Secretary who’s responsibility it would be. You must have an idea, I think it’s impossible to argue that you don’t know how many people, give or take, are back in your building.”
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Mr Eustice said: “I don’t know how many checked in recently, but I can say that I’ve been working with the Permanent Secretary and our officials to make sure the environment is safe so we can get as many people as possible returning.”
Ms Hartley-Brewer enquired: “Do you not know the answer, or do you know the answer and it’s just embarrassingly low and you don’t want to say?”
The minister replied: “I don’t know the answer, I’m returning to work today and will be back in the office tomorrow.”
One final time, the host said: “But you’ve been in the office for the last few weeks so you must have a clue?”
However, Mr Eustice still insisted he did not know.
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