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South Cambridgeshire council ordered to end four-day week trial

The minister for local government, Lee Rowley, has told South Cambridgeshire District Council to end its four-day week trial, stating that it is unlikely to provide value for money to taxpayers and may breach legal duties.

The minister wrote to the council on Friday (30 June), saying the trial should stop immediately, and was subsequently backed up by levelling-up secretary Michael Gove. 

Following a speech at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference, Gove said: “The key thing is that 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 a full five-day week.” 

More on the four-day week:

A four-day working week is great for some, but not for all

Four-day week trial hailed a success for businesses and workers

Four-day work week doesn't have to be a headache

Angela O’Connor, founder of consultancy The HR Lounge, said companies attempting to implement a four-day week must consider the needs of both employees and users. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Organisations are increasingly having to balance the need to provide effective services and meet the expectation of a labour market that counts flexibility as a highly ranked benefit. 

“South Cambridgeshire have a responsibility to their local residents and they will need to demonstrate they have considered fully the needs of their local communities and these must come first. 

“Any flexible working approaches must ensure that those service users can contact knowledgeable staff and access information easily and effectively.” 

Research by recruitment firm Hays found the four-day week could be an effective recruitment tool, as 64% of professionals would be tempted to move jobs if an organisation was offering a four-day week.  

Nearly all (94%) professionals believed the four-day week is a good idea. 

South Cambridgeshire council leader, Bridget Smith, said in a letter to Rowley that the four-day week scheme had helped improve recruitment and productivity had been maintained. 

She said in a statement: “At the start of our trial we were carrying a £2 million annual agency bill.  

“During the first three months of the trial, we filled four permanent posts that had previously been impossible to fill. 

“This has reduced our annual bill by £300,000.” 

In 2022, a four-day week trial was conducted by 4 Day Week Global, involving 70 companies, employing approximately 3,300 workers across the country. 

Nine in 10 (92%) of the organisations that participated in the 4 Day Week Campaign trial decided to maintain the four-day week, according to a study of the trial by think tank Autonomy, the University of Cambridge and Boston College. 

Across the test group, more than two thirds (71%) of employees reported lower levels of burnout and there was a 65% reduction in the number of sick days taken.