The four-day week trial at South Cambridgeshire District Council is proposed to continue, despite government funding threats.

The government has said it is considering using “levers” in its funding settlement for the coming financial year to “disincentive the four-day working week”.

A letter from Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to council leaders in England said: “The government continues to believe that this reduces the potential capacity to deliver services by up to 20 per cent, and as a result does not deliver value.”

In South Cambridgeshire the district council is still proposing to continue its trial until it receives more information about what this funding impact could be.

The authority began the four-day week trial for desk-based staff at the start of 2023, before later expanding the trial to include staff working in the waste collection service.

Under the trial staff receive full pay for working fewer hours, but are expected to complete all of their work in that time.

The district council began the trial to see if it would help the staff recruitment and retention problems it was facing.

The authority’s leadership have faced repeated backlash over the trial, both from opposition councillors and central government.

A Best Value Notice was issued by the government to the district council in November last year, which is a formal notification of the government’s concerns about the district council.

In a report published this week (February 21), the district council said the trial has helped to save the authority money, stating it has spent £434,000 less on agency staff to cover roles it had previously identified as hard to fill.

The district council has said it did have to employ additional temporary staff following the launch of new collection routes, but said this was “common practice” and was done to “manage changes efficiently”.

The papers state that the net saving for the authority has been £316,000 after taking into account the additional costs.

The report reveals that the district council is proposing to continue the trial until it receives more information from the government about what potential future ‘financial levers’ could be imposed.

The district council has said due to the uncertainty around this it will not be able to hold a public consultation on the trial, which it said it had intended to hold in March.

The authority has plans to hold the consultation after it receives more information from the government.

The lead cabinet member for resources, Councillor John Williams (Liberal Democrat), said: “Our four-day week trial is about improving the consistency of services to residents and businesses, by helping us attract and keep hold of talented staff in a hugely competitive job market.

Royston Crow: John Williams, lead cabinet member for resources at South Cambridgeshire District CouncilJohn Williams, lead cabinet member for resources at South Cambridgeshire District Council (Image: SCDC)

“We know we cannot compete on salary alone and so must find new ways of tackling our recruitment and retention issues.

“These are particularly acute in South Cambridgeshire due to the cost of housing locally.

“Importantly, we’ve spent £434,000 less on using agency staff to cover 10 roles we classed as hard to fill before the trial.

“This is because, since announcing the trial, we have been able to fill these roles permanently, rather than using agency workers to cover.

“We expected to be able to run a consultation about the four-day week shortly after the trial ends at the end of March, but the government’s own recent consultation into using financial levers to dis-incentivise councils from proceeding with a four-day week means we now can’t.

“We need to understand what the government mean by this before we can effectively consult.”

While the trial is being run by the district council it also impacts Cambridge City Council as planning and waste collection services are shared between the authorities.

Councillor Mike Davey (Labour), leader of the city council, said: “The key thing for us is working out what’s best for our residents.

“So far during the trial we’ve seen high standards maintained in the services we share – planning and waste – with a five-day service maintained for planning and no changes made to the frequency of bin collections.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the full analysis later this year, once the trial has concluded, at which point we’ll be able to further interrogate the data to determine the extent to which a four-day week can help deliver high-quality services for residents.”

Opposition councillors have criticised the latest developments on the four-day week trial.

Councillor Heather Williams, leader Conservative opposition group, said the net saving of £316,000 was “miles off” what had been hoped for.

She also criticised the fact that decisions on continuing the trial at this stage will still be made by the cabinet and not the full council.

Cllr Williams said: “[It is] complete contempt for residents in that 80 per cent of councillors are expected to just sit back, allow this to happen, without being permitted to represent their residents at all, because the papers show that the Lib Dems will carry on one way or another and still deny us a vote for the foreseeable future.


“This is not democracy. This is not down to the welfare of residents. It is a social experiment being paid for by the taxpayer.”

Councillor Dan Lentell (Independent) said the four-day week trial had been a “costly failure” and said the district council has “rightly been hauled over the cols by the UK government”.

The report is due to be discussed by councillors at an employment and staffing committee meeting next week (February 29).

Cabinet will later be asked to make the decision on whether to continue the trial at this stage.