The government has called on councils experimenting with a four-day working week to halt their trials, citing concerns about taxpayers’ value for money.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities has issued a stern message, urging local authorities to “cease immediately” the pursuit of the shortened workweek, sparking a contentious debate within the political landscape.

South Cambridgeshire District Council was the pioneering local authority to embark on the trial of the four-day working week.

According to the council, the initiative has led to improvements in recruitment and staff retention. Bridget Smith, the Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, claimed that the trial had not only maintained performance but, in some cases, enhanced it.

She pointed out that there were no areas of concern regarding service quality.

What about staff turnover?

Furthermore, the four-day workweek, which started as a three-month pilot for 450 desk-based employees in January, expanded to include waste crews in July. Smith emphasised the “strong evidence” indicating that the new work pattern had helped fill challenging-to-recruit positions, ultimately saving money that would have been spent on hiring agency staff. Since the trial’s commencement, the council reported a 36 percent reduction in staff turnover, a 33 percent decrease in sickness rates, and fewer complaints about services.

However, despite these positive results, the government remains steadfast in its opposition to extending the four-day working week trials to other councils. Local government Conservative minister Lee Rowley stated that the government respected councils’ right to make their own decisions on key issues. Nevertheless, he argued that there were times when it was necessary for the government to intervene to safeguard taxpayers’ value for money, and the four-day working week was one of those times.

Rowley made it clear that the government would take “necessary steps” to put an end to the practice in local government. Councils that defy the guidance while experiencing a decline in service quality would face closer performance monitoring, with the government considering ways to address any deterioration.

The debate continues…

In response, Bridget Smith expressed her willingness to engage in dialogue with the government regarding the trial, highlighting the benefits they had been able to substantiate. South Cambridgeshire District Council intends to present its findings to local businesses and residents at the end of the trial, with councillors ultimately voting on whether to proceed with a four-day workweek.

Smith emphasised the apparent contradiction in the government’s stance, stating, “On one hand, the 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.”

The debate over the four-day working week in local councils promises to continue, with councils grappling with the challenges of balancing innovation with the need to provide efficient and cost-effective services to their constituents.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.