A minister has ordered a local council to end its experiment with a four-day week “immediately” over concerns about the “value for money” for local taxpayers.
South Cambridgeshire District Council, the first local authority in the UK to undertake such a trial, had announced plans to extend it until April.
Local government minister Lee Rowley wrote to Liberal Democrat council leader Bridget Smith to “ask that you end your experiment immediately” and say he had concerns about the “value for money” for local taxpayers.
There has been increased interest in four-day week experiments across the world, with some businesses praising the shift to a shorter working week.
The local council said its four-day week trial “aims to allow the council to continue to deliver excellent services to residents and businesses, whilst improving consistency and reducing costs, and said independently reviewed data showed it had been a success.
But Mr Rowley said such a model is inappropriate for local authorities.
“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,” he wrote in a letter dated 30 June.
“I strongly believe in the ability of councils to innovate and find new ways to discharge their responsibilities – yet removing up to 20% of the capacity to do those activities is not something which should be acceptable for a council seeking to demonstrate value for money for its taxpayers and residents.
“Whilst some private sector organisations may choose to experiment with their own capital and capacity regarding ‘four-day working weeks’, local government should not do the same.”
Such an approach could breach the council’s legal duties under the Local Government Act, he said.
Move ‘flies in face of evidence’, campaign group says
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities will “shortly be issuing clear guidance” on the matter, Mr Rowley added.
“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,” he said.
Joe Ryle, director of the 4-Day Week campaign group, said: “This move by the government flies in the face of all the evidence, which shows the four-day week has been a huge success at the council.
“The four-day week with no loss of pay is already being rolled out across the private sector so it’s only fair the public sector are included too.
“There is no good reason to end this trial, which is already bringing many benefits to council workers, local residents and saving the council money.”
Council leader Ms Smith replied to request a meeting with ministers to discuss the matter, saying independently reviewed data showed “performance was maintained at the level shortly before the trial, while some areas of performance data saw significant improvement compared to recent data.”