Author Archives: Cllr Bridget Smith

Why is the Government scared of Lib Dem South Cambridgeshire’s trial of four-day working?

The Government has called on Local Authorities to innovate and that is exactly what we’re doing in South Cambridgeshire, but it appears to be the wrong sort of innovation if you are a Tory. They have gone so far as issuing a Best Value Notice when our corporate peer review has just reported that we have really sound finances and an enviable record of delivering on the Government’s priorities.

In more ‘advanced’ parts of the world such as Scandinavia and Australia the four-day working week is becoming the norm and in the UK over 90% of those private sector businesses in a recent large scale study found it hugely beneficial and have chosen to stick with it. The five-day week is over 100 years old and was undoubtedly fit for purpose in a world without internet, AI and remote working. The pandemic accelerated the move into this new world of work and most organisations have retained those practices because they worked for people and for business.

Despite Jacob Rees Mogg wanting all civil servants tied to their desks five days a week, eight hours a day that is certainly not what is actually happening in government and it is not happening elsewhere. So why did we put ourselves in the firing line in South Cambridgeshire and why have we chosen, thus far, to stay there?

There is a national crisis in recruitment and retention which is most acute in the public sector and especially acute in places like ours where it is extremely expensive to live and there is a very competitive market for the sort of talented people we need. Greater Cambridge (Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire) is the hottest growth area in the UK and it is nigh on impossible to compete on salaries and perks with the wealthy private sector for planners, IT experts and others.

We had tried everything we could for years to become an employer of choice but we had to look at something else, not only to attract people but to hold onto them. We routinely failed to fill 80% of vacancies and early last year only filled 50%; some very attractive jobs received no applications and we were spending more than £2m a year on agency staff.

We began by running an initial three-months’ trail just to test if performance held up. We had previously spent three months preparing for the trial because evidence from the private sector study indicated the strong link between good preparation and eventual success. We extended the trial to a year when the result were encouraging and have subsequently seen an escalation of benefits as we move towards the end of this longer trail early next spring.

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Cllr Bridget Smith writes…..Lib Dems are the party of Business

It became apparent some weeks ago that South Cambridgeshire could not rely on the Mayor and the Combined Authority to lead on Business Recovery.  The reason being that South Cambridgeshire is a very rural district albeit wrapping completely around Cambridge City, with an extremely diverse business sector which includes not only the Cambridge Science Park and the world renown Bio Medical campus at Addenbrookes Hospital with the likes of Astra Zeneca but also the Wellcome and Sangar Institutes at Hinxton and the soon to be Huawei headquarters at Sawston. Every bit as important to us is farming, manufacturing, the service industries, tourism and the many thousands of SMEs, sole traders and home workers.  The role of the CA is obviously high level and strategically focused on the whole of the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area and cannot be refined or nuanced enough to support the village based micro economies which ensures that the 103 villages and 1 new town are truly self-sufficient and sustainable.

When we took control of the council 2 years ago we immediately established Economic Development as one of our top 4 priorities and were in the process of recruiting a Business Support Team when CV struck – which has turned out to be fortuitous. Our original plan was to focus on inward investment, exploiting the potential of our enterprise zones and fulling the SME business support gap left when Business Link ceased to operate. This team will now obviously be focusing on business recovery.

I also recently established the role of Member Champion for Business which Cllr Peter McDonald has excelled at. Peter created a Business Recovery Strategy in the first couple of weeks of the crisis which has been critical for us as the situation has developed.

Economic growth has been more than healthy for the Greater Cambridge area (South Cambs and Cambridge City) and it is currently the government’s focus for their initial investment in the OxCam Arc with the recent announcement of the E-W rail link and the budget plans for 4 new DevCos in and just to the west of the district.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 6 Comments
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