'Stop now' | Council fights back against Gov's opposition to 4-day week with longer trial

Council fights back against Gov's opposition to 4-day week with longer trial

South Cambridgeshire district council has decided to press ahead with its trial of a four-day workweek, despite strong opposition from the UK Government.

Back in July, South Cambridgeshire district council, led by the Liberal Democrats opted to continue plans to implement the four-day week, in direct defiance of Government Minister Lee Rowley’s demand to stop.

Rowley warned of potential court action and demanded that the council cease using taxpayers' money for the trial immediately. The Government's stance against four-day workweeks was made clear in June, making this dispute an intensifying standoff.

Now, the council has chosen to extend its trial of a compressed working week. Under this new shift rota, refuse collectors will now operate on a four-day week schedule, which will incorporate not working on Mondays.

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Bridget Smith, the council's leader, defended the continuation of the four-day week trial. She emphasised that the trial had attracted a greater number of job applicants and improved the quality of candidates.

Additionally, she noted that it has resulted in significant annual cost savings of over £550,000 by reducing agency worker expenses and filling previously unwanted positions.

Smith stressed that the trial aimed to address critical recruitment issues, especially in the planning team, which had been disrupted by unfilled vacancies.

The council intends to gather data and assess whether the four-day workweek has made a difference throughout its full planned duration until the end of March 2024.

Support for the four-day week

Advocates for the four-day week welcomed South Cambridgeshire Council's decision. Joe Ryle, the Director of the 4 Day Week campaign group, pointed out that nine out of ten councils struggle with job recruitment and retention.

He suggested that a four-day workweek could be a solution, benefiting both employees and employers. Previous trials in private companies have reported improved productivity and employee wellbeing.

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Despite growing interest in flexible working arrangements, the Government remains firmly opposed to the concept. Rowley recently expressed scepticism about the council's claim that the trial had been successful, citing missed targets and worsening performance in several areas.

Rowley argued that a council's role is to secure continuous improvement and suggested that reducing its operating capacity by up to a fifth would not support this objective.

The Government's stance is at odds with the trend seen in some public sector organisations, like the Scottish Government, which plans to launch its four-day working week pilot by the end of 2023.

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