The government stated that remote working provides benefits in terms of hiring and supporting a diverse range of staff and creating inclusive organizations.
Two senior Conservative MPs have criticized the government for allowing intelligence agencies to continue hybrid working despite a watchdog report highlighting a decrease in efficiency.
Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former government efficiency minister who previously left notes on civil servants’ desks to encourage them to return to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic, described the intelligence agencies as “spectres.”
The report, issued by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), revealed that the intelligence community had adopted hybrid working even after the pandemic.
Although those working on critical priorities had been in the office full-time throughout the pandemic, the introduction of hybrid working had significantly slowed down responses to the ISC’s requests for information, according to the ISC.
The watchdog added that the “new normal” resulted in missed deadlines and responses that had been sanitized for remote sending. This hindered the committee’s ability to scrutinize security and intelligence matters properly and in a timely manner.
The ISC, which oversees agencies such as MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Defense Intelligence, the Joint Intelligence Organization, the National Security Secretariat, and Homeland Security Group, noted that different agencies had varying degrees of remote working.
On Thursday, the Cabinet responded by stating that the intelligence community had learned important lessons from hybrid working during the pandemic. It emphasized that flexibility allows organizations to recruit and support a diverse range of staff and build inclusive organizations.
Sir Jacob, speaking to The Telegraph, commented, “The spooks have become spectres. The modern spy may reject the James Bond image, but at least he did some work.”
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith criticized the government for its complacency.
“In essence, you can say that productivity has significantly decreased. While they can work from other locations, their effectiveness is not the same. The government’s response is complacent,” he said.
Conservative MP Julian Lewis, the chair of the committee, welcomed the government’s response but argued that suggesting the report is outdated is misleading.
Conservative MP Bob Seely urged the UK to be realistic about the Chinese regime.
“The China we hoped for is not the China we are getting,” he said.
“MPs, public servants, and soldiers, in particular, need to be aware of the threat they face and understand that our enemies not only seek to potentially recruit us as agents but also to divide us.
“The UK and our allies need a more coherent and robust approach to the threat posed by China’s Communist regime,” he added.