Council to use shorter working weeks to save jobs

A council asking its staff to work reduced hours or take unpaid leave to save jobs has been applauded by industry experts, who predict other councils will follow suit.

Cherwell District Council is thought to be the first local authority to ask its staff to work less hours or take time off without pay, to limit expected job cuts. The council aims to save £2.6m over the next three years, and has written to staff asking them to consider reduced working hours and unpaid leave, as well as voluntary redundancy and retirement.

The body is also encouraging staff to tell them about their career development hopes over the next few years so this can be factored into planning considerations.

Anne-Marie Scott, Cherwell’s head of HR told Personnel Today: “If people have planned to retire in two years time, it will be useful for us to know that now so we can build into longer term plans. If people want to work part time maybe for a year or two while the children are small, we are willing to consider that.”

Private sector firms including KPMG, Jaguar Land Rover, JCB and Ryanair all opted to reduce working hours or implement pay freezes earlier this year in a bid to save jobs and hang on to key talent.

Cherwell’s decision to implement a similar strategy has been welcomed by Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, who predicted the approach will “spread” nationwide.

“I think it’s brave and innovative,” she said. “Cherwell is being very responsible in the approach it has taken. The good thing is it has given people choices and I am impressed with the way it has a future eye on talent and skills retention by asking people to talk through future plans and aspirations. One of the dangers is people with skills can leave an organisation.”

Joan Munro, national adviser for workforce strategy at the Improvement & Development Agency agreed. She said: “In the last recession when councils were downsizing they lost a lot of skilled staff and had to pay a lot of money to buy them back as consultants We welcome an authority that’s been imaginative and is trying something different.”

However, HR experts have warned that money-saving measures like reduced working hours and pay freezes may only stall inevitable job cuts, if the economy recovers at a slower pace than first expected.

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