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South Cambridgeshire District Council plans to continue four-day week trial despite funding threats





South Cambridgeshire District Council is proposing to continue its four-day week trial despite government funding threats.

The government has said it is considering using “levers” in its funding settlement for the coming financial year to “disincentive the four-day working week”.

Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of the Liberal Democrat-run South Cambridgeshire District Council, at the council's headquarters in Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of the Liberal Democrat-run South Cambridgeshire District Council, at the council's headquarters in Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell

However, the council is proposing to continue its trial until it receives more information about what the impact of this could be.

A letter from Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to councils leaders in England said: “The government continues to believe that this reduces the potential capacity to deliver services by up to 20 per cent, and as a result does not deliver value.”

The council began the four-day week trial for desk-based staff at the start of 2023, before later expanding the trial to include staff working in the waste collection service.

Staff receive full pay under the trial for working fewer hours, but are expected to complete all of their work in that time. The council launched the trial to see if it would help the staff recruitment and retention problems it was facing.

However, the authority’s leadership have faced repeated backlash over the trial both from opposition councillors and the government.

The council was issued with a Best Value Notice in November last year, which is a formal notification of the government’s concerns about the council.

In a report published today (Thursday, 21 February), the council says it has spent £434,000 less on agency staff to cover roles it had previously identified as hard to fill.

The council admits it did have to employ additional temporary staff following the launch of new collection routes, but said this was “common practice”. The net saving for the authority is £316,000 after taking into account the additional costs.

It is proposing to continue the trial until it receives more information from the government about what the ‘financial levers’ could be. It says this uncertainty means it is unable to hold a public consultation on the trial, which it said it had intended to hold in March.

The authority intends to hold the consultation after it receives the additional information.

Cllr Heather Williams, the leader of the Conservative opposition on South Cambridgeshire District Council. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Heather Williams, the leader of the Conservative opposition on South Cambridgeshire District Council. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr John Williams (Lib Dem, Fen Ditton and Fulbourn), the lead cabinet member for resources, said: “Our four-day week trial is about improving the consistency of services to residents and businesses, by helping us attract and keep hold of talented staff in a hugely competitive job market.

“We know we cannot compete on salary alone and so must find new ways of tackling our recruitment and retention issues.

“These are particularly acute in South Cambridgeshire due to the cost of housing locally.

“Importantly, we’ve spent £434,000 less on using agency staff to cover 10 roles we classed as hard to fill before the trial.

“This is because, since announcing the trial, we have been able to fill these roles permanently, rather than using agency workers to cover.

“We expected to be able to run a consultation about the four-day week shortly after the trial ends at the end of March, but the government’s own recent consultation into using financial levers to disincentivise councils from proceeding with a four-day week means we now can’t.

“We need to understand what the government means by this before we can effectively consult.”

While the trial is being run by South Cambridgeshire, it also impacts Cambridge City Council as planning and waste collection services are shared between the authorities.

City council leader Cllr Mike Davey (Lab, Petersfield) said: “The key thing for us is working out what’s best for our residents. So far during the trial we’ve seen high standards maintained in the services we share – planning and waste – with a five-day service maintained for planning and no changes made to the frequency of bin collections.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the full analysis later this year, once the trial has concluded, at which point we’ll be able to further interrogate the data to determine the extent to which a four-day week can help deliver high-quality services for residents.”

Cllr Heather Williams (Con, The Mordens), opposition leader at South Cambridgeshire, said the net saving of £316,000 was “miles off” what had been hoped for.

She also criticised plans for the authority’s cabinet to continue making decisions over the trial at this stage rather than the full council.

“[It is] complete contempt for residents in that 80 per cent of councillors are expected to just sit back, allow this to happen, without being permitted to represent their residents at all, because the papers show that the Lib Dems will carry on one way or another and still deny us a vote for the foreseeable future,” Cllr Williams said.

“This is not democracy. This is not down to the welfare of residents. It is a social experiment being paid for by the taxpayer,” she added.

Cllr Dan Lentell (Ind, Over and Willingham) said the trial had been a “costly failure” and said the council has “rightly been hauled over the coals by the UK government”.

The report is due to be discussed by councillors at an employment and staffing committee meeting on Thursday (29 February).

The cabinet will then later be asked to make the decision on whether to continue the trial at this stage.



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