Government issues new notice of formal concerns about South Cambs four-day week

A second formal notice of government concerns about the four-day week trial has been sent to South Cambridgeshire District Council. A new Best Value Notice has been issued to the authority by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The notice formally highlights the government’s ongoing concerns about the four-day week trial and its impact on the authority’s performance.

The leader of the district council, Councillor Bridget Smith, said the trial has had benefits for the authority, and said they will continue to share the data and evidence of the impacts with the government. The district council introduced the four-day week trial for desk-based staff at the start of 2023, before later expanding it to include staff working in the waste collection service.

Under the trial staff receive full pay for working fewer hours, but are expected to complete all of their work in that time. The authority began the trial to see if it would help with the staff recruitment and retention problems it was facing. The district council’s leadership has faced repeated backlash over the trial, but has refused to back down to calls from government and opposition members to end the trial.

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The first Best Value Notice was issued by the government to the district council in November last year. The government later said it was also considering using “levers” in its funding settlement to “disincentive the four-day working week”. The district council agreed to continue running a four-day week until it received more information about what the funding impact could be.

This week (May 8) the government issued a second Best Value Notice to the district council which says it has “ongoing concerns” about the trial. It said: “The authority is not yet fully analysing the long-term impacts of the trial and future decisions on the trial remain unknown.

“The removal of up to a fifth of the capacity of the authority means that it is unlikely, in aggregate, for it to be able to support continuous improvement. In insisting on continuing the trial, the working arrangements chosen by the authority could impact on the delivery of its Best Value Duty.”

The government has said that as the district council is continuing the trial that it wants to see additional details to continue to be provided on the impacts of the four-day week on individual employee activity. The latest Best Value Notice is due to be in place for six months.

Cllr Smith said: “The data and evidence we’ve seen so far shows how the four-day week is having a positive impact on many parts of the council – and lots of the services we provide to local people. For example, our ability to recruit and retain planning officers has dramatically improved. This means a smoother service for anyone who sends in a planning application as it can be dealt with by the same planner from start to finish.

“The government highlights in their letter how we have engaged constructively with their data requests so far. We will continue to do so. Performance data we’ve collected during the trial is being analysed, and councillors will also review this data at a full council meeting in July.”

The leader of the Conservative opposition group at the district council, Councillor Heather Williams, said the latest notice could have been avoided if the leadership had ended the four-day week trial and questioned why the authority was “continuing to defy government warnings”.