Tory chairman Oliver Dowden has told the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester that “People need to get off their Pelotons and back to their desks,” in what a trade union has described as an “insult” to civil servants.
People have been encouraged to work from home wherever possible during the coronavirus pandemic, and the civil service has been no exception.
Dowden’s remarks follow comments from his former permanent secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – where he was Secretary of State until last month’s cabinet reshuffle – about how using her Peloton static bike at home had helped her health during lockdown, reports BBC News.
Speaking at a conference in September, Sarah Healey said: “I have a Peloton and I can just get on my bike whenever I have a teeny bit of time.
“That has been a huge benefit to my well-being, the lack of travelling time eating into my day.”
But today, Dowden told a fringe meeting sponsored by the Daily Telegraph at the Tory conference: “I like my permanent secretary at DCMS enormously, Sarah Healey, but I am disagreeing with her on this one.
“I think people need to get off their Pelotons and get back to their desks.”
He continued: “People really want the government to lead by example – they want civil servants to get back to work as well. We've got to start leading by example on that.”
The First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants, accused Dowden of producing a soundbite to appease party members.
“As the civil service, the broader public sector and thousands of companies in the private sector already know, what you deliver is far more important than where it's delivered from,” it said.
“The pandemic has driven a quiet revolution in working practices that has seen innovation and reform from both the public and private sectors.
“Yet despite the incredible feats performed, ministers continue to want to stand in the way of progress and reform for the sake of a quick headline.”
The union added: “The hypocrisy of ministers – who are happy to bank the savings in office space delivered by hybrid working but decry the practice for the party faithful – is frankly insulting to the dedication, professionalism and commitment of hundreds of thousands of public servants.”
According to figures published by the government, Healey’s annual salary is at least £160,000.
A number of Twitter users pointed out however that the base cost of a Peloton bike – recently reduced to £1,350 for the standard model – plus the monthly media subscription to online classes put it beyond the reach of most civil servants.
Most earn less than £30,000 a year according to analysis of 2020 figures from the Institute for Government, and only a quarter earned more than £40,000.
With the median UK Civil Service salary £28,180 and a Peloton bike + 1 year subscription coming in at £2,218, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the number of civil servants too busy working out on posh exercise bikes to go to the office is in the single figures at most. https://t.co/1wjXU3UkT3
— Sharon O'Dea (@sharonodea) October 5, 2021
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.