Largest UK public sector trial of four-day week sees huge benefits

South Cambridgeshire experiment led to fewer refuse collectors quitting and faster planning decisions.

In the largest public sector trial of the four-day week in Britain, fewer refuse collectors quit and there were faster planning decisions, more rapid benefits processing and quicker call answering, independent research has found.

South Cambridgeshire district council’s controversial experiment with a shorter working week resulted in improvements in performance in 11 out of 24 areas, little or no change in 11 areas and worsening of performance in two areas, according to analysis of productivity before and during the 15-month trial by academics at the universities of Cambridge and Salford.

The trial by the Liberal Democrat-controlled authority drew a furious reaction from the Conservative government, with a minister telling the borough leader, Bridget Smith, to “end your experiment immediately”, complaining that it would not give value for money for local taxpayers.

The multi-year study of the trial involving about 450 desk staff plus refuse collectors found:

Staff turnover fell by 39%, helping save £371,500 in a year, mostly on agency staff costs.

Regular household planning applications were decided about a week and a half earlier.

Approximately 15% more major planning application decisions were completed within the correct timescale, compared with before.

The time taken to process changes to housing benefit and council tax benefit claims fell.

The Guardian