The UK government has banned four-day work week trials for councils, calling them a waste of taxpayers' money. The new guidance, issued by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), says that councils should end any existing trials immediately and should not pursue the practice in future.
The guidance comes after South Cambridgeshire District Council, the first local authority in the UK to trial a four-day week, announced plans to extend its trial until next April. The council had said that the trial had been a success, with staff reporting improved work-life balance and productivity.
However, the government said that the four-day week was not value for money for taxpayers. "Removing 20% of a local authority's potential capacity does not offer value for money for residents," the guidance said.
➡️ Leading councillors have confirmed that a 12-month four-day week trial at South Cambridgeshire District Council is continuing— South Cambridgeshire (@SouthCambs) September 13, 2023
♻️ The trial will expand to waste collections next week, with more bins being collected on Tuesday to Friday, and no collections from homes on Mondays… pic.twitter.com/R9CrOPTqq0
Minister for Local Government Lee Rowley said that the government was "being crystal clear" that it did not support the four-day week in local government. "Local authorities that are considering adopting it should not do so," he said. "Those who have adopted it already should end those practice immediately."
The guidance also said that councils should not offer a blanket four-day working week on a full salary across the whole organisation. However, the government said that it continued to support an individual's right to request flexible working.
The ban on four-day weeks has been met with criticism from some trade unions and opposition parties. The GMB union said that the government was "out of touch" with workers and that the four-day week was a "win-win" for both staff and employers.
The Liberal Democrats, who are in charge of South Cambridgeshire District Council, accused the government of "trying to micromanage" councils.
Council leader Bridget Smith said: “On one hand, Government tells us to innovate to cut costs and provide higher quality services; on the other they tell us not to innovate to deliver services.
“We are best-placed to make these decisions in our area, which has high private sector wages and housing costs, making it very difficult to attract and retain talented staff we need to deliver for residents and businesses.”
The government's ban on four-day weeks for councils is a reversal of its previous position. In 2021, the government said that it was "open-minded" about the four-day week and that it would be "interested to see the results" of trials.
However, the government's position has hardened since then. In July, the DLUHC launched the new Office for Local Government (Oflog) to increase councils' accountability for their performance. Oflog will ensure the sector can access clear and high-quality performance data and examples of great practice from other councils.
The department is also leading a pilot called Future Councils to accelerate digital and cyber improvements across the sector. The pilot is currently funding eight councils to innovate on solutions that unblock systemic barriers to change and improve services for residents.
Photo Credit: iStock