September 30, 2022
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Now is not the time for councils to work four-day weeks at the taxpayer’s expense

By on September 5, 2022 0

The prospect of moving to a four-day week with no loss of pay is compelling. Who wouldn’t want an extra day for themselves for the same amount of money? From the workers’ point of view, this is obvious.

When I messaged a friend to ask how she was doing last week, she specifically mentioned how great she felt after having an extra day off due to the August bank holiday. “BIG fan of a four day week,” she replied, no doubt echoing millions of messages across the country.

The thousands of people lucky enough to take part in the UK national four-day week pilot right now are rightly shouting from the rooftops about how happier and more productive they are, hoping their HR teams understand the message and never dare send them back to that five-day week.

It was therefore not surprising that after a few trial bosses expressed concerns about the long-term viability of a shorter week with The Telegraph a few weeks ago, it seemed to provoke outrage from some involved persons.

Yes, most people like to work a shorter week – we all have that memo – but like any drastic change, there can be bumps in the road and it shouldn’t be controversial to acknowledge that.

A boss willing to test this idea should be able to admit that a shorter week might not be forever without sparking fierce debate. If negative experiences are discredited, we will never understand if a shorter week actually works.

One problem with this “good vibes only” attitude is that the idea seems so irreproachable that it is now spreading outside the private sector – and could soon impact taxpayers.

A Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrat-controlled council has just unveiled plans to test the idea next year in a bid to tackle hiring problems.

The authority, South Cambridgeshire District Council, is considering allowing key employees such as bin collectors to work 30 hours a week instead of the usual 37 for the same amount of pay.

Three office workers who earn more than £100,000 a year will also be part of the trial, which is likely to infuriate taxpayers who have complained about problems with the council and are now facing a tough winter.

“Does anyone actually work in this council?” There seems to be no one to help me with problems every time I call,” read one online review. “My black bin should have been emptied on Tuesday but it failed”, pleads another. “Too bad I can’t give stars,” complained a third. “I don’t know what we’re paying here,” says a fourth. And so on.

When I asked council leader Cllr Bridget Smith what she would say to frustrated residents who might be furious about the plan, she promised the pilot would only become permanent if services and productivity s were really improving.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” she said, pointing out that struggling to hire staff and use temps accordingly doesn’t benefit taxpayers because it costs so much more.

But the worry will be that any problem in this proverbial pudding will never see the light of day. Once staff start a four-day week for the same pay, of course, they won’t want to go back. Others will likely watch with envy and follow suit. As Smith says, “I have no doubt that many more will follow.”

Smith makes some fair points about hiring and the costs associated with paying agency workers, but now doesn’t seem like the most appropriate time to tell taxpayers that staff could start working fewer hours at the same wages.

Britain is plunging into recession, soaring costs of living have inflicted a long-term pay cut on struggling workers and households are facing a winter of spiraling energy costs.