An independent analysis has shown that services at South Cambridgeshire District Council were maintained, and some even improved, during a trial of a four-day week. As a result, the trial has been extended for an additional 12 months.
The aim of the four-day week is to allow the Council to continue delivering excellent services while enhancing consistency and reducing costs in the face of increased public sector spending pressures.
The Council initiated the trial in January 2023, making it the first local authority in the country to explore this way of working. Around 450 desk-based staff participated in the trial, prompted by recruitment and retention challenges similar to those experienced nationwide in the public sector. Prior to the trial, the Council was spending approximately £2 million per year on agency staff, particularly in specialized roles where the private sector pays higher wages. The trial has already resulted in a £300,000 reduction in the Council’s annual wage bill and encouraged some staff to remain at the Council instead of seeking employment elsewhere.
Unfilled vacancies and reliance on agency staff can be costly and disruptive, causing delays and frustration in various areas, such as planning applications. However, the combination of reduced agency spending and improved recruitment during the trial period has proven to be a positive indicator of the Council’s desired outcomes in the year-long trial, enabling cost savings while upholding high-quality public services.
South Cambridgeshire District Council’s expansion of the scheme
The Council’s Cabinet members met on Monday and agreed to extend the trial until the end of March 2024. They also decided to expand the trial to include bin crews, part of the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste service with Cambridge City Council, starting in the summer, pending approval from the latter.
The four-day week concept entails completing 100% of the workload in 80% of the time, with no reduction in pay, achieved through increased productivity. Throughout the trial, the Council monitored performance metrics and conducted a health and wellbeing survey to assess the impact on staff.
The Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge independently reviewed the Council’s trial data to ensure an unbiased analysis. The review covered 18 key areas, including planning, housing, transformation, human resources, corporate services, and finance. The data revealed substantial improvement in nine out of 16 areas monitored, while the remaining seven either maintained similar levels or experienced slight declines. Notably, no area of performance reached a concerning level during the trial. The Council has published the full trial data on its website.
Dr. Nina Jörden, Research Associate at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, University of Cambridge, acknowledged the collaboration with the Council and highlighted the trial’s positive impact on wellbeing, workplace productivity, and Council performance. The findings from this collaboration can guide other public sector organizations in addressing recruitment and retention challenges, improving employee physical and mental health, and responding to societal changes for better long-term outcomes.
Cllr Bridget Smith, the Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, emphasized the success of the trial, as evidenced by the robust analysis conducted by the University of Cambridge. She expressed confidence in the potential of a four-day week to address recruitment and retention issues and support the delivery of frontline services. She also emphasized the shift from the traditional five-day work week to a four-day week as a means of working smarter and increasing productivity.
Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, praised the approval of the year-long extension, citing it as a source of confidence for other UK councils considering their own four-day week trials. He highlighted the evidence demonstrating the productivity benefits and mutually beneficial outcomes for workers and employers.
The success of the four-day working week trial so far demonstrates a positive move from South Cambridgeshire District Council in terms of more flexible working arrangements and saving money.