And they're off! Civil Service told to 'work' from home

Oliver Wright
Monday 26 March 2012 00:09 BST

It is known as the "silly season": the month when politicians and civil servants go away for their holidays and shark sightings off the coast of Cornwall take on a national significance.

But this year the annual Government shutdown is set to double to almost two months as the Olympic Games takes over Whitehall.

Officials from 16 Government departments have been told to avoid all but essential travel in London for eight weeks from late July until the end of the Paralympics on 9 September.

All job moves and interviews have been cancelled for the period and non-essential, non-Olympic business is being severely curtailed. Supplies are being stockpiled to cut down on deliveries and meetings cancelled or re-arranged remotely.

Known as Operation StepChange, it will affect thousands of civil servants, many of whom are being encouraged not to come into work at all. Up to 50 per cent of the entire London-based civil service is expected to be affected.

It follows fears that London's transport infrastructure will be unable to cope with the expected influx of Olympic spectators.

Games organisers have already launched a huge campaign to encourage private companies to allow their employees flexible working during the period and central Government is keen to do its part.

Many Government departments are based in and around Whitehall – which is both the location for the beach volleyball and on one of the key Underground routes to the Olympic Stadium.

A series of pilots have been carried out in order to assess the practicalities of civil service home working with mixed success. One insider said Department of Business servers were unable to cope with just 150 members of staff trying to log on from outside the building during a recent trial. However, this was denied by the department.

A senior Whitehall source said besides a terrorist attack, ministers' greatefear is a transport meltdown.

...while PM warns ministers to cancel their holiday plans

David Cameron has instructed government ministers not to go on holiday during the Olympics.

The games coincide with the start of the school holidays. But Cabinet members and lower-ranking ministers have been told that they must be on hand to receive visiting VIPs.

The Government has made no secret of its hope that the Olympics can be used to boost British business, and with many of the world's top politicians and business lead- ers in London, there will be scope for what he described as "Olympic mini-summits".

But ministers who have been told it will "look good" if they "staycation" during both the Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, have not been banned from holidaying abroad later in the summer.

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