Tag Archives: four day week

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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Encouraging a four day working week

Years ago, I thought the idea of a four-day working week was an unrealistic socialist policy, however over the past 18 months I’ve come around to the idea. After work, most people would like to relax (or canvass for the Liberal Democrats!), but many of us find that there is scarcely the time, especially those who commute and have dependents. After housework and life administration, there is sometimes little time to do anything else besides get ready for bed. 

I still study for professional qualifications and a day off work to study, rather than trying to only squeeze it in on the evenings and weekends, would be useful. I imagine many others who would like to retrain or continue with their studies whilst working feel the same way. 

We shouldn’t force companies to give people an extra day off per week, but we can encourage the option by introducing an Employer National Insurance (NI) tax break for companies offering an extra day off per week. At the moment, the Employer NI rate is 13.8% on the value of salaries and benefits above £166.01 per week. The offer would have to be made to all employees if the individual company wishes to take advantage of the scheme – this would prevent discrimination as there would be no tax break for the company for employees earning below £166.01 per week. Companies would not be forced to offer the extra day off per week, but if they do, it must be offered to all employees. 

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