JACOB Rees-Mogg is emphatically in favour of civil servants returning to their desks in the Westminster government’s over-priced offices.

“We have very expensive property in London, it is there to be used”, said the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency. “People either need to be coming in to work or the office space can be reallocated to those who will use it”. Civil-service unions were quick to see this as a threat.

Rees-Mogg was reflecting upon the colossal change in work-culture that has been realised by the pandemic. Post-lockdown, huge numbers of people are still working from home – discovering, and benefiting from, an improved work-life balance and, surely, being more productive than was the case before lockdown (were they studiedly less productive, their employers would have ordered them back into the office).

Rees-Mogg himself did have the grace to admit, in an interview last weekend, that “one of the oddities of lockdown ... was that I saw a great deal more of my six lovely children, so it had its compensations”.

But hybrid working, irrespective of the number of days one works from home, looks like being here to stay. North of the border, many government agencies have adopted it. Most public-sector bodies have no intention of returning to the office full-time. Less than 10 per cent of office staff in some local authorities have gone back to their pre-pandemic working model.

Many people who work from home for all or part of the week have been doing more shopping in their towns or districts than once was the case. And the unhelpful rise in commuters’ train fares has to be remembered when one considers the cost-of-living crisis, and salaries that either remain stubbornly flat or receive only minute increases.

There are some obvious points to be made here. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to work from home – vast numbers of jobs depend utterly on people being at their place of work. And in the private sector most, though by no means all, employees are back at their office desks.

Concerns have been expressed about the costs of social isolation, and of younger employees no longer being mentored by more experienced colleagues.

It is also true that city-centre retailers – from restaurants and sandwich shops to bookshops and department stores – have been feeling the pinch as they try to recover their fortunes. The weekend night-time economy, however, is doing well, illustrating what Stuart Patrick, of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, describes as “a clear contrast” between activity during the working week, “where current experiments in hybrid working are suppressing footfall”, and at weekends.

While weekday retail would no doubt flourish were every last employer to insist on a universal return to the office 9-to-5, the story is slightly more complicated than that. The headaches faced by retail cannot be laid entirely at the door of hybrid working. There are other, more structural, issues at play.

In the first place, a serious shortage of staff has been hampering many sectors across Britain. There are now more than a million fewer workers than there were before the pandemic. In the words of one commentator a few days ago, around a third of them retired; another third, chastened by Brexit, returned to their home countries; the other third were younger workers who sought a career break.

Secondly, while hybrid working’s impact on footfall cannot be denied, many city centres and town centres are in a challenging condition, one that dates back several years, and not merely because millions of people have opted for online shopping.

The lamentable decline of Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow has been well chronicled, in these pages as elsewhere. The chief executive of one e-commerce development group told Holyrood last week that he and his wife felt “uncomfortable and nervous” while walking down the “grubby .. and dirty” street. They are far from being alone.

Remedying this would surely call for more of a co-ordinated official response than has hitherto been the case. How about, to suggest just a small example, a concerted effort to clean the shopping precinct up and get rid of the graffiti? And what efforts are being made to prioritise ingenious new uses for empty units in prime retail space?

There are ambitious proposals for the Buchanan Galleries ad St Enoch Centre, but more granular improvements are needed. The perception of Glasgow as a “dump” might be unfair but it does have currency, and seems to be spreading into tourism and culture.

Edinburgh, too, does not have its problems to seek, with people complaining about endless tram-works, grubby streets, and traffic jams caused by the ongoing refurbishment of North Bridge. Further down the line, what impact will the Low Emission Zone have on the fortunes of the city centre?

Town centres, too, could do more to make women feel safe, as the chief executive of Women’s Enterprise Scotland has pointed out. Their feeling of insecurity is heightened by inadequate signage, poor toilet facilities and poor transport connections. Solutions, she added, also have to be found to the numbers of beggars on the streets.

Significant re-work needed to be done to Scotland’s city centres and urban areas in order, she added, to engage women. Her words ought to heeded. But will they be?

Hybrid working may not have been much of an issue before the pandemic struck with unequivocal force, but it certainly is now, especially as companies, councils and quangos seem to have made a successful transition, and as employers in some, hyper-competitive sectors are aware of the need to focus on employee well-being.

More to the point, in one recent survey, 47 per cent of employees questioned said they would likely look for a job if their employer didn’t adopt a flexible working model. Like it or not, WFH is part of the new landscape.

Rangers in Europa

TEN years ago Brechin City brought out a commemorative mug: the first club, its wording read, to play new Rangers in a competitive game. Few doubted that Rangers would rapidly soar back up through the leagues, but the seizing of last season’s Premiership title and, now, the fact that the club has reached the Europa Cup final are achievements that speak to the depth of talent and the unflagging will to win that characterise Ibrox.

In disposing of RB Leipzig Rangers have restored a good part of Scottish club football’s lustre. It would be idle to pretend that all of Glasgow will be behind them when they contest the final in Seville on May 18, but we wish them well.