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2023 saw the largest trial of 4-day working week in the UK with 60+ companies taking part from marketing agencies to financial firms and even a fish & chip shop. The trial didn’t work for every business. Some firms abandoned the experiment; others haven’t yet made the move to adopt the format full-time. A number of firms that continued with reduced hours are facing new challenges arising from shortened workweeks. It’s clear that a four-day workweek isn’t an automatic solution for all.
In October 2023 the UK government put the kybosh on 4-day working week trials in the local government sector. The non-statutory guidance covers local authorities in England who are considering adopting a 4-day working week – where staff have their working hours reduced by 20% but retain 100% of their pay (or equivalent/similar) and states:
“The government does not support a 4-day working week in local authorities, as it does not believe that it delivers local taxpayers’ value for money” Gov.uk
The government does, however, “support an individual’s right to request flexible working” but the 4-day working week is an organisation wide approach to pay and working hours and is clearly different as it doesn’t relate to the individual.
Against this backdrop the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste (“GCSW”) service – a strategic partnership between Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council responsible for the collection of household bins in the city of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire – looked at the potential for a 4-day working week in the refuse & recycling collection operation. GCSW modelled detailed waste routes for a potential 4-day working week following trials by South Cambridgeshire District Council in January 2023. These 4 trials were the first of their kind in the local government waste & recycling collection sector.
One potential challenge of a 4-day working week concept in waste & recycling collection services is the requirement to collect the same number of bins in 80% of the available time and the concern that this would inevitably result in the need for additional vehicles and crews therefore increasing service costs. Interestingly, with the application of route optimisation software in the modelling of a 4-day service, this concern was nullified (Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Route Optimisation Success). According to Cllr Mike Davey, Leader of Cambridgeshire District Council:
“… the recent introduction of a four-day waste collection in South Cambs and City has gone extremely well so far. Data from the first five weeks shows we have exceeded our 99.7% collection target…” in a statement on South Cambridgeshire District Council’s continuing four-day week trial
Even so SCDC received a Best Value Notice from the Dept of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities which, according to the Local Government Information Unit website, is a “firm tap on the shoulder” from central government expressing their concern.
The route optimisation software proved that a 4-day working week for refuse & recycling collection was feasible within the budget and the initial evidence from the operational teams is that employees and the Council are seeing benefits which, ultimately, is of benefit for the community as a whole.
How will things develop in 2024? With a General Election on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if any of the political parties put a 4-day working week high on their campaigning agendas. And regardless of the Westminster election, will the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales revisit the concept, especially for waste & recycling collection operations?