Have you been enjoying the four day weeks this month? With three bank holidays, we have had an unusual amount of time off from our hectic schedules.
But for the officers of South Cambridgeshire District Council, this is now life as normal. The Liberal Democrat leadership has put all council officers in Cambourne on a four dayworking week without any reduction in pay for the past three months. Today the Lib Dems will vote to continue this experiment for a year.
The Lib Dems justify it on the ground that council staff are happier. But the council is meant to serve the residents rather than the other way round. In reality, it is a travesty for the poor residents of South Cambs, who have to pay the extra costs, and put up with poorer services.
The Lib Dems insist that there is no reduction in service levels, but they have to torture the data to reach that pre-decided conclusion. Public bodies are meant to do evidence-based policy making, but the Lib Dems are doing policy-based evidence making.
Their own data shows that between January and March this year the percentage of phone calls from residents that are answered fell below target. For those phone calls that are answered, the time taken to answer jumped by a third from 139 seconds to 178. When they were answered, the percentage where issues were resolved first time droppedbelow target. The number of days taken to process new housing benefit or council tax support claims more than doubled from 6 days to 14 days. There will be families waiting longer not knowing if they can afford to eat. The percentage of invoices from SME suppliers where it is taking the council more than 30 days to pay has more than trebled, starving our small businesses of cash flow. The planning department has been particularly badly hit, with a dramatic reduction in the number of planning decisions referred to the planning committee.
The only area where they have clearly improved performance is taking money from us – collection rates of housing rents, business rates and council tax have all miraculously improved over the past three months. I am sure residents will be pleased.
The Taxpayers Alliance, who are taking a keen interest in the drop in productivity at the council, proved that of the twelve metrics that the Council use to judge their own performance, only four met their targets for all three months.
The Lib Dem leader claims that allowing all staff to work part time on full pay saves money, as they will need less agency staff. They estimate that they could save £300,000 a year –but they take the figures from the August 2022, not year on year. When you go and look at what they are paying to suppliers from January to March 2022 compared to the trial period, it turns out their spending on agency staff actually increased by 15 per cent. On top of that, they admit that they will have to spend well over £100k on recruiting more binmen, because they can’t expect physical workers to do five days work in four days. This is all from Lib Dems who have put up council rates and rents for social housing by the maximum legal amount in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
But there is one place they will make savings: with all officers working part time and rampant working from home, the expensive newish council offices have become a ghost ship, with virtually no one working there. So they are planning to rent the offices out.
The truth is that this is a far left ideological experiment. The Lib Dems are in cahoots with the 4 Day Week Campaign, whose director is a former adviser to the self declaredMarxist, the former shadow chancellor John MacDonnell. It is funded by unions and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, named after the German revolutionary communist.
The CEO of South Cambs District Council is doing a PhD into the 4 day week, which she declared to the leader of the Council Bridget Smith, who did not mention this clear conflict of interest to all councillors overseeing the experiment.
Nor I understand are the council staff actually that much happier. Many are stressed trying to do five days work in four. Those that can’t and end up working a fifth day are resentful. Many feel insulted that the Lib Dems think they were so inefficient they can do a weeks work in four days. Finally having virtually no staff in the office is terrible for young people, who need to learn from their more experienced colleagues.
South Cambs District Council is unfortunately becoming a national laughing stock. The whole country should look at SCDC and learn what not to do. And the Lib Dems should drop their ideological experiments, and focus on serving the public rather than pleasing officers.