The Department for Education (DfE) will spend £6.5 million refurbishing its office in Sheffield, but insists the work has nothing to do with fears of overcrowding and difficulties during an evacuation last year.
The work on the office in St Paul’s Place will “modernise and refresh the office, increase capacity, and address building condition, including assets approaching the end of their useful life”, it said.
Capacity has become more of an issue at DfE offices across England since an edict last year ordering civil servants to return to the office for at least 80 per cent of their working week.
FE Week revealed how the DfE overall had twice as many workers as desks, forcing staff to work in corridors and canteens. As of last year, Sheffield had 790 desks for 1,489 staff.
Complaints about overcrowding at Sheffield came to a head last year when the office was evacuated after the discovery of a suspicious package.
Civil servants claimed at the time that overcrowding had left them struggling to leave the building.
But the DfE told FE Week that refurbishment had been in the planning phase since 2020, whereas the bomb threat occurred in May 2022.
The department did not have concerns about overcrowding in “any of our offices”, it said.
“The slower than usual evacuation was due to a unique set of circumstances that were not linked to any perceived overcapacity or overcrowding of the office,” the department said.
Work on the building will include upgrades to its mechanical, engineering and plumbing systems, which the DfE said were running at capacity and “not efficient”.
This would include “increasing toilet provision, improving the heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and moving the building to be in line with net zero carbon guidelines”.