Best Practice

A district council which is struggling to fill vacancies is set to become the first UK council to trial a four-day working week for its desk-based staff.

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s three-month trial involving 470 staff could begin in January, if its cabinet approves the move on 12 September, and then subsequently be extended to blue-collar roles such as waste collection crews. It is being proposed after the pandemic led many people to think differently about work and life priorities.

The authority’s leader Bridget Smith – also a vice chair of the DCN – 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.

“As a council we are leading the way on this; it could be truly ground-breaking for local councils nationally.”

South Cambridgeshire says it would closely monitor the impact on its performance and service levels must not drop if the four-day week is to be considered viable long-term.

Data will be monitored including the processing of benefit claims, rent collections, the speed with which planning applications are determined, staff turnover and call answering times, with performance compared against the results from August this year.

The trial is said to be undertaken as the council grapples with recruitment difficulties which have seen it fill less than 80% of its vacancies in the past year. Its use of agency staff in office roles adds £1m to its annual wage bill.

Cllr Smith continued: “Attracting and retaining staff is an issue for most councils. Therefore, along with lots of organisations from around the world, we think this is something that is worth investigating. Not only could it help with the wellbeing and retention of our existing staff, but I am hugely keen that we open ourselves up as an employer to a more diverse workforce.”

It is hoped that the proposed model could attract more prospective staff with childcare or other caring responsibilities for whom the traditional 9-5, five-day-a-week model is unappealing.

The council’s proposal comes after the 4 Day Week Campaign started a broader trial involving 70 UK companies and 3,300 employees in June this year.

Campaign director Joe Ryle said: “The decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council to outline plans to become the first ever UK local authority to trial a four-day week is historic and should be applauded.

“This move could benefit thousands of workers, improve productivity, and help to tackle the job recruitment crisis in local government. We hope this trial, if approved, results in many more councils across the country embracing the four-day week.”