By LOUISE ECCLES
Business leaders reacted with dismay yesterday to news that civil servants will be allowed to work from home during the Olympic Games They said it sent out the dangerous message that Britain would close down for almost two months.
The special dispensation, which is supposed to limit transport chaos in London, will extend from July 21 – six days before the Olympics opening ceremony – until the Paralympics ends on September 9.
Tens of thousands of Whitehall staff will be allowed to take advantage of it.
Pierre Williams, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘A lot of private sector workers will feel rather surprised that the public sector have decided to work from home during the Olympic games.‘We are not saying people can’t work effectively from home but at a time when the Government has urged Britons to work harder, a visible sign that the public sector is playing its part would have been welcome.’
A spokesman for the Business Services Association, which represents outsourcing companies, said: ‘Seven weeks is a long time to have the heart of government working intermittently.’ David Cameron’s official spokesman said yesterday that civil servants would not be ‘skiving’ during the Olympics.
‘Staff are not being told that they have to work from home,’ he insisted. ‘What we are doing is encouraging staff to plan ahead and consider different work and travel patterns for the period of the Olympic Games.
‘We are looking at whether in some cases it would make sense for people to work from home, but it could also mean travelling outside rush hour. Whitehall is not going to be shutting down.’
But Mark Field, MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said: ‘Sadly this flies in the face of the claims that Britain will be open for business. It’s fine to do it for the three weeks, but for the seven weeks from the middle of July to early September sends the wrong signal.
‘Whitehall is hard to get hold of at the best of times, so this is hardly going to help.’ An extra three million journeys are expected to be made in London on the busiest days of the Games, taking the total daily traffic to 15million journeys and placing a huge strain on the network.