Civil Service 60% Office Attendance Decision-Making records

Terence McCormack made this Freedom of Information request to Cabinet Office Automatic anti-spam measures are in place for this older request. Please let us know if a further response is expected or if you are having trouble responding.

Waiting for an internal review by Cabinet Office of their handling of this request.

Terence McCormack

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please provide all records held relating to the recent decision that office based civil servants will need to spend a minimum of 60% of their working time in the office.

By 'records' I am referring to copies of any communications, correspondence, memos, evidence considered, statistics, documents etc. relating to the decision-making process, records of meetings, discussions and considerations that took place in respect of the 60% policy and the final decision being made. This list is indicative and not exhaustive.

Yours faithfully,

Terence McCormack

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2024/00188

Dear Terence McCormack,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 5th
January. Your request is being handled under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
2nd February.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

2 Attachments

Dear Terence McCormack,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2024/00188).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Terence McCormack

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Cabinet Office's handling of my FOI request 'Civil Service 60% Office Attendance Decision-Making records'.

I am requesting an internal review in respect of (1) the seeming omission of records that are strongly implied to be held and (2) the validity of the public interest balancing test for the withheld records.

In the response you have stated:

"There is a range of studies and data in the public domain that consider the evidence and trends on the benefits of hybrid working practices. There were no specific studies or reports that underpinned the office attendance expectation."

This suggests the Department is somehow aware of a 'range of studies' without having created any records as to how or why this is the case. This seems difficult to believe.

Furthermore, the guidance document you have supplied itself states on page 8:
"Benchmarking data from other organisations across the private and other sectors shows that..."

However, there is no sign of this benchmarking data being provided (or withheld) in the response despite my request specifically asking for the "evidence considered" and "statistics". Again, I find it difficult to believe that benchmarking data has somehow been consulted without any records of this being created.

Furthermore, the guidance document contains many claims in respect of office working benefits (particularly on pages 5 and 9-10), which I would assume to be based on sources rather than unsubstantiated assertions. Therefore, again, I find it difficult to believe this list of benefits could have been compiled without the creation of any records as to where they came from.

With regards to the public interest balancing test, FOI was introduced in 2005 and public officials surely recognise that it is not possible to guarantee absolute confidentiality of their advice or deliberations. Civil servants and other public officials are expected to be impartial and robust when giving advice, and not easily deterred from expressing their views by the possibility of future disclosure.

The policy decision has now been made and publicly communicated, so it is no longer a live issue requiring a 'safe space' for debate and consideration. The guidance document you've supplied contains various justifications as to why the new policy is being implemented. Given that this has been published into the public domain, I see no reason why the public interest would favour withholding records that likely show senior officials discussing similar topics, reasoning and rationales. For example, you refer to discussions of the risks to service provision. I find it absurd to suggest that an official would be deterred from providing quality advice in future if it were disclosed that they have advised on how hybrid working has impacted upon service provision, along with their recommendations on altering the hybrid working policy based on what that impact has been.

There is also a strong public interest in the public being aware whether there were any other driving factors or reasons behind the decision beyond the claimed organisational benefits to the Civil Service - for instance whether the decision was influenced by other external factors, influencers or lobbyists.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/c...

Yours faithfully,

Terence McCormack

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Dear Terence McCormack,

Thank you for your request for an internal review (reference
IR2024/01546), which was prompted by our response to your request for
information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

We shall endeavour to complete the internal review and respond to you
within 20 working days.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

FOI Team