Employment

Council’s refusal to scrap four-day week inspires others to register interest in new pilots

Ministers had told South Cambridgeshire Council to stop its trial of a four-day working week

Waste disposal crews employed by Cambridge City Council will work a four-day week from September on a trial basis. Image: Garry Knight / Flickr

A ministerial letter ordering South Cambridgeshire Council to halt its pilot of a four-day working week has “backfired”, after seven more councils registered their interest in shortening their week.

“[The letter] has gone down really badly,” Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign told The Big Issue. “This is a way in which councils are trying to innovate, they’re facing a lot of problems around job recruitment and job retention, so they’re trying to find their own ways of dealing with that. And so they’ve been angry that the government has intervened in this way.”

The Liberal Democrat-led council has pressed ahead with its trial of a four-day working week, which is due to end in March 2024, despite a letter from local government minister Lee Rowley requesting they halt the experiment “immediately”. 

The letter sparked anger among those in local government “toward the central government for trying to shut down local democracy… On those terms it has definitely backfired,” Ryle continued.

Rowley wrote to South Cambs Council in June requesting “confirmation that South Cambridgeshire will be returning to established norms around local government workforce capacity in the coming weeks ahead”.

He argued that the reduction in working hours, with no cut to pay, did not represent “value for money” for local taxpayers. “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,” he wrote. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Anthony Browne, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, also expressed his displeasure at the trial taking place in his constituency, telling The Telegraph: the council is on an “ideological crusade on the four-day week and [is] impervious to evidence against it”. 

The backlash from Tory ministers has come as a surprise to many following the results of the largest ever trial of the four day working week, held in the UK, after most of the organisations taking part reported overwhelmingly positive results, including reduced sick days, reduced incidences of burnout, higher staff retention and improved work-life balance.  

Rightwing lobby group, The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), has emerged as a key influence behind ministerial attempts to undermine trials of a four-day week, The Guardian reports. 



Council leader Bridget Smith said she was “surprised” to receive the letter, and replied to the minister requesting a meeting to address his concerns. No meeting has yet been agreed, The Telegraph reports. 

South Cambridgeshire Council launched its trial of a four-day working week in January this year, in a bid to attract new employees to the desperately understaffed service. The trial allowed its 450 mainly desk-based employees to choose to take Monday or Friday off, while continuing to receive the same pay.

Five months into the trial, the council decided to extend it by another 12 months after independently reviewed data showed the initial pilot was a success. 

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

“This is a trial, but we have already seen strong independently assessed evidence which showed that performance was maintained, and in some cases improved, in the first three months,” said Smith. 

“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. As time goes on it is becoming increasingly clear that recruitment has been positively affected, both in terms of the quality and number of applicants, and the consequent success in filling vacant posts.”

Waste disposal crews are also set to join the trial from September.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Junior doctors announce five-day strike right before the general election: 'We're fed up'
Strikes

Junior doctors announce five-day strike right before the general election: 'We're fed up'

FOSO is the new FOMO: Why are we so afraid to switch off and be out of office?
Work

FOSO is the new FOMO: Why are we so afraid to switch off and be out of office?

Is 'edgy upstart' BrewDog now 'boring and ubiquitous' after years of scandal? Experts weigh in
BrewDog
Business

Is 'edgy upstart' BrewDog now 'boring and ubiquitous' after years of scandal? Experts weigh in

Train strikes: Rail passengers weigh in as Aslef drivers 'grind services to a halt'
train strikes

Train strikes: Rail passengers weigh in as Aslef drivers 'grind services to a halt'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know