Lib Dem-run South Cambridgeshire council to be the first to trial four day working weeks

·2-min read
Leader of South Cambridgeshire Council, Bridget Smith (South Cambridgeshire Council)
Leader of South Cambridgeshire Council, Bridget Smith (South Cambridgeshire Council)

A Liberal Democrat-run council is set to become the UK’s first local authority to trial four day working weeks for staff.

South Cambridgeshire District Council is introducing the scheme initially for its 470 desk-based staff, who will take home full pay despite working fewer hours. This includes the authority’s chief executive Liz Watts, who earns around £119,000 and £136,000 per year.

If the council agrees to the idea, its office workers will begin a three month trial from January and, if it is successful, other departments could follow suit.

South Cambridgeshire leaders have said they will keep a close eye on productivity levels and will only make the scheme permanent if no drop-off in output is shown.

South Cambridgeshire Hall (South Cambridgeshire Council)
South Cambridgeshire Hall (South Cambridgeshire Council)

The council said the move is being considered to provide a better work/life balance to employees - but also because they are struggling to fill posts.

“For more than a year, the council has only been able to fill around eight out of every ten (or fewer) of its vacancies,” a statement read. “Between January and March, only around half were filled.”

From January, desk staff might only need to work 30 hours per week. So far, only the private sector has championed the benefits of four day working.

Council leader Bridget Smith, said: “The trial would be all about seeing if a four-day week has the same positive impact on productivity, staff wellbeing and recruitment in local government, as seen elsewhere.

“We only filled around half our vacancies during the first few months of this year and using temporary agency staff in these office roles costs us more than £2million a year. We know that if we instead filled those roles permanently, it would only cost around £1million a year.”

The Liberal Democrats have been in control of the authority since 2018, but the council has traditionally been a tug of war for governance with the Conservative Party.

Councillor Heather Williams, leader of the opposition Tory group, said: “I am really quite worried and concerned of the impact on the residents and officers.

“I see day after day that council officers are doing over time. I just think it insulting to them to say, ‘we think you can just do the job in less time’.

“It would be a different conversation about compressed hours. I am worried about the pressure these reduced hours are going to put on officers.”

“We are already three years behind on our accounts,” she added.

The council’s cabinet will vote on September 12 about whether to commence the trial.