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Four-day working week trial

Best Value Notice

The Council has received a Best Value Notice from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It relates to the Council's four-day week trial. An Extraordinary Meeting was held on Monday 20 November to discuss the Best Value Notice.

What is a four-day week?

A trial of a four-day week for staff at the Council is taking place, having started in January 2023. A four-day week is when people deliver 100% of their work in 80% of their contracted hours for 100% of their pay. There is evidence that working a four-day week means people got more done in less time.

Some private sector businesses who work a four-day week choose to close for one whole day during the week - usually a Friday. This is not what the Council is doing because we are maintaining our full opening hours so that they are at least the same as they were before the trial. You can continue to contact us on any day of the week that you choose.

Why are we trialing a four-day week?

The main reasons we are trialing the four-day week include:

  • To help us attract and keep talented colleagues in an incredibly competitive local employment market.
  • So we can improve our services by filling vacant posts permanently, rather than relying on more expensive agency staff. Regularly changing staff, or using agency staff to cover posts, is both costly and disruptive to services for residents. For example, when case officers change during the process of a planning application, it can cause delays and frustration because a lot of context and institutional memory is lost.
  • To reduce costs. Before we announced the trial, the Council was spending about £2 million a year on 23 agency staff who were covering vacancies - often in specialist roles where the private sector pays more. This bill could be halved if all the agency posts were filled permanently. The Council has now filled 14 of these posts - mainly in the planning service - that are notoriously ‘hard to fill’ due to the national shortage of planners. Filling these posts means the Council expects to spend hundreds of thousand of pounds less on agency cover for these posts this year. It is however important to note that the Council’s agency spend still fluctuates due to the need to bring in agency staff to carry out short term programmes where permanent staff are not required. For example, this includes employing temporary staff to support the Council’s commitments under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 

The decision-making process

  • Decisions on the initial three-month trial, and subsequently extending the trial for a year, were made by Cabinet.
  • At a meeting of the Council’s Cabinet on Monday 12 September 2022, Cabinet Members agreed to proceed with an initial three-month trial. 
  • At the Cabinet meeting on Monday 15 May 2023, Cabinet members agreed to extend the trial for 12 months after independently-analysed data showed the first trial had been a success. At that Cabinet meeting, Members also agreed for waste crews to take part in a three-month trial. Data from the three-month waste trial will be discussed by Councillors once that three-month trial is completed. The four-day bin collection pattern will continue until Councillors have decided on the next steps.
  • There have been regular updates regarding the trial at our Employment and Staffing Committee meetings.
  • Following the end of the trial in March 2024, a final report on the four-day week trial will be discussed by Cabinet and then Full Council.
  • We share some services, including our Greater Cambridge Shared Planning and Greater Cambridge Shared Waste teams, with Cambridge City Council. Therefore, Cambridge City Council also receive update reports.
  • The Council's Chief Executive has been undertaking a Doctorate in Business Administration relating to the four-day week in the public sector, which she started during 2020. As mentioned above, the decision-maker for the initial three-month and subsequent year-long trial was Cabinet. Cabinet and Full Council will discuss next steps at the end of the extended trial period. As this is the case, legal advice stated that the Chief Executive's Doctorate did not need to be declared. In addition, the qualification is 100% self-funded and carried out in the Chief Executive's own time. 

Analysis of data from initial three-month trial

The Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge independently reviewed the Council’s data from the initial three-month trial. They looked at data from 18 different key areas, covering performance in Planning, Housing, Transformation, Human Resources and Corporate Services and Finance.

The data shows:

  • Nine out of the 16 areas monitored show substantial improvement when comparing the trial period from January to March to the same period in 2022.
  • The remaining seven areas monitored either remain at similar levels compared to the same period last year or saw a slight decline.
  • The Bennett Institute noted however that not a single area of performance fell to a concerning level during the trial.

The Bennett Institute approached the Council to offer their expertise in this area for free. During the process of writing their reports, the Bennett Institute provided the opportunity for the Council to check them for accuracy - as they would do for any clients that they work with. The Council then provided comments on the Bennett Institute's draft reports, as is normal for this type of process.

If we can be more productive on a four-day week schedule why can’t we be more productive but still work five days?

Working a four-day week is very different from working a five-day week. It is more intense – it has to be, in order to complete 100% of the work in 80% of the time. Many people will have experiences of the end of their week being less productive than the beginning. In a four-day week, we expect the end of the week to be just as productive as the beginning – but we know that this level of intensity does mean the longer weekend is really required to recover and re-energise ready for the next week. Trials of a four-day week are going on elsewhere, and our trial is testing this theory for us.

What we have also found with the four-day week trial so far is that employees have become more committed to the organisation, and their intention to stay with us has increased. This increases our productivity by reducing turnover costs – we can be more consistent in delivering services because we don’t waste time recruiting and training new colleagues. Before the four-day week trial this wasn’t the case – we had high turnover especially in some key service areas.

Some people think we should be able to be as productive over five days as we are over four. This is a bit like saying people running a marathon should run at the same speed as people running a sprint race – we know that’s not physically possible. It’s the same with a four-day week. The key for us is that all of the work is delivered, in 80% of the time. People feel more committed and so their motivation is higher. The office is open five days a week (and a little longer than usual on Wednesday evenings).

We don’t know whether the positive signs we have seen from the trial so far will be sustained – but that is part of the reason for a longer trial as it is evidence-led.

Got a question or comment?

If you have any questions about the trial, or would like to make a comment about the trial arrangements, then please just complete the short form below. If you would like someone to get back to you, please remember to leave your email address.

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