Hackney Council will not be switching to a four-day working week for its staff – with threats from the government and uncertainty around town hall finances cited as reasons why.
Green group leader Cllr Zoë Garbett pressed for senior councillors and officers to meet campaigners for a four-day week, who say that the switch increases productivity, leads to better mental and physical health and is better for the environment.
Only one council in England – South Cambridgeshire – is thought to have made the switch, cutting staff hours by 20 per cent. It has said the move helped recruitment and saved money on agency workers.
However, the government has warned other councils not to follow suit.
Cllr Garbett said that the UK had “some of the longest working hours in Europe but one of the least productive economies”, and suggested that a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay “would benefit Hackney Council, its employees, our local economy, society and environment”.
But Cllr Carole Williams, the cabinet member for employment, human resources and equalities, said the council had “no plans” to move from a five-day week and declined the invitation to meet the campaigners.
“What we’re going to do is take our advice from the professionals in employment law,” she said. “I’d be very reluctant to make any changes to the working week, especially considering the threat from the current government on some of the financial implications, given that we are not only in the cost-of-living crisis, but we don’t know what’s happening with budgets going forward.
“We have to be very careful to ensure that we deliver the best services to our residents. So at this point in time, that’s not a request I would accept.”
Last October Lee Rowley, then the minister for local government, told South Cambridgeshire to stop its trial, claiming that a four-day week did not offer value for money.
He warned that the government would “take necessary steps in the coming months ahead to ensure that this practice is ended within local government”.
Cllr Williams said that Hackney Council already offered extensive flexible working options to its staff, with 81 per cent now based at home for one day a week or more, up from 30 per cent five years ago.
“We’re currently undertaking an engagement survey of all staff to reflect on what is working well and where improvements can be made as part of our ongoing effort to support our staff in having a good work-life balance,” she added.