Trial shows 4-day week boosts recruitment and retention

The results of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s four-day week trial show improvement or stability in 22 out of 24 areas.

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An evaluation of a four-day week trial at a local authority which became the centre of a culture-wars type struggle under the Conservative government has published its results, showing the council improved or maintained services in 22 out of 24 indicators.

Publication of the independent report by two universities – into South Cambridgeshire District Council’s performance during its four-day week trial was accompanied by an independently run health and wellbeing survey. Both will be reviewed by councillors over the next weeks.

Under a four-day week, officers are expected to carry out 100 per cent of their work, in around 80% of their contracted hours, for 100% of their pay. The Council says the trial has not affected its opening hours and in fact it has had longer opening hours on Wednesdays.

The report found that 11 measures were performing better during the trial, compared to beforehand. This includes call answering times, timeliness of planning decisions, how long it takes to process benefits claims and speed of emergency repairs to Council homes.

A further 11 key performance indicators showed no significant differences during the trial – meaning those services continued to be delivered to the quality they were previously. The frequency of bin collections has also remained the same.

The two areas that were exceptions in terms of performance during the trial period were housing rent collected and average days to re-let housing stock. Housing rent collected either hit or was just below the Council’s target in the 15 months of the trial. However, overall collection rates were below the long-term average, indicating that rent collection has not recovered to pre-Covid levels. The report says that this is likely due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on tenants’ household finances.

It adds that the target for the average number of days taken to re-let Council homes is very ambitious at 17 days. It says the top 25 per cent performing Councils in the country average 37 days to relet Council houses. In 2022/23 the average turnaround time for South Cambridgeshire District Council was 28 days; in 2023/24 it was 30 days. It adds that returned Council homes now also often require extensive works which take longer to complete.

One of the key reasons for doing the trial was to improve recruitment and retention. A financial assessment of the trial found a full-year cost saving of £371,500. This is mainly due to permanently filling 10 posts that were previously identified as ‘hard to fill’. The financial saving has been made by not needing more expensive agency alternatives.

Meanwhile, recruitment data shows there has been a 53 per cent increase in the average number of applications for jobs advertised externally and more than 130 new staff have joined the Council. Of new starters, 76 per cent were influenced by the four-day week trial when deciding whether to join.

The findings of the latest independently run health and wellbeing survey by Robertson Cooper showed higher employee commitment, with more staff reporting they intend to stay longer working for the Council. Mental and physical health and motivation have also risen.

The formal trial finished at the end of March 2024. The Conservative Government consulted on the potential of using financial levers to discourage councils from adopting four-day weeks. It took action to stop the council from continuing with the trial, saying it didn’t offer best value for the public, although the trial results had not been published at that point.


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