South Cambridgeshire District Council has been trialling a four-day working week for council staff, with no loss of salary or benefits. The council leaders claim that staff will still be able to complete the work they are contracted to do in five days, in 20 per cent less time. The council has undertaken a three-month trial of reduced working hours and have now extended that trial for a further 12 months. When raised at prime minister’s question time on 24th May 2023, Rishi Sunak said:
“Public servants should rightly focus on delivering for the public and taxpayers. It is disappointing to hear from my hon. Friend that his local Liberal Democrat council is not doing that—instead reducing, as I have heard, staff contact hours and costing residents more. I urge the council to reconsider its decision, because his residents and constituents under South Cambridgeshire District Council clearly deserve better”.
Subsequently the Minister for Local Government Lee Rowley wrote to the council leader on 30th June 2023 stating:
"As I am sure you are aware, all councils are expected to ensure that finite and valuable taxpayers' money is used in a way which demonstrates value for money - something which paying employees for an extra day of work that is not carried out is unlikely to demonstrate"
"I look forward to your confirmation that South Cambridgeshire will be returning to established norms around local government workforce capacity in the coming weeks ahead"
The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, told the Local Government Association annual conference on 4th July 2023:
“I believe very strongly, as indeed does the Minister for Local Government, that when taxpayers are paying for services, they need to have people working that full five-day week. It seems to me that for every penny that's paid in council tax, we deserve, all of us, to see those who are working in local government working what is a full working week for those who are council taxpayers as well”
“I'm a strong believer that a five-day working week is what so many of our other citizens are facing, and they need to work those five days in order to be able to pay their council tax to meet their other needs. A five-day working week seems to me to be what we should expect of people in public service who are having their wages paid by those council taxpayers”
Reducing working hours by 20 per cent means that productivity in the hours actually worked must increase by 25 per cent to compensate. This note examines the productivity of the council and the claims made as to how it will increase productivity by 25 per cent in just a few months.
- The council has published guidance as to where efficiency will be improved to achieve a 25 per cent productivity increase in a single year. It represents the most basic of changes to working practices, that should already have been in place were the council run efficiently.
- Public sector productivity only increased by 4.1 per cent in total in the 20 years up to 2019, before the onset of the covid pandemic, a meagre 0.2 per cent per annum.
- There is no credible evidence that a 25 per cent increase in productivity can be achieved by merely reducing working time by 20 per cent.
- The guidance issued by the council confirms that they have historically been working inefficiently, delivering low productivity.
- Moving to more efficient working practices, as outlined in its own report, would allow the council to reduce staffing levels by 20 per cent and pass the resulting cost savings onto council tax payers.
- Claims by the council of £300,000 in annual cost savings by replacing agency staff with permanent staff as a result of the initial trial is contradicted in the same report.
- The council has failed to file its audited statement of accounts for 2020-21. These are now 21 months late.
 Hansard, Engagements, Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 24 May 2023, hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2023-05-24/debates/36596791-44CF-46BA-A393-E364CE19B1BD/Engagements, (accessed 4 July 2023).
 Sky News, Minister tells council to ‘immediately’ end four-day week experiment over ‘value for money’ concerns, 1 July 2023.