Scotland eyes cash-saving four-day week for civil servants

Spending review documents set out “broad aim” to return devolved public-sector workforce to pre-Covid levels by 2026-27
Photo: Scottish Government

By Jim Dunton

07 Jun 2022

The Scottish Government has raised the possibility of its civil servants being given the option to work a four-day week as part of medium-term cost-saving measures.

Its new Resource Spending Review says parts of the public sector will be invited to “participate in the pilot of the four-day week” that was set out in last year’s Programme for Government document,  targeting companies with a fund worth £10m.

The Scottish Government’s medium-term financial strategy document, published as part of the spending review, flags a potential resource-spending funding gap of £3.5bn by 2026-27, which is the end of the review period.

It says that with a headcount of around 447,000 full-time equivalent staff, Scotland’s public sector makes up around one-fifth of the nation’s entire workforce, and says the total pubic-sector pay bill is in excess of £22bn a year. It adds that the Scottish public-sector pay is around 7% a year higher than than the UK public-sector average.

The Resource Spending Review says public-sector headcount in Scotland has risen by around 1% a year in recent years. It targets a return to “broadly” pre-Covid levels by 2026-27 and to “maintain the cost” of the overall annual pay bill from 2023-24. But it insists a different approach will be taken to that of UK government, which is looking to cut 91,000 civil service jobs over the next three years.

The review says “effective vacancy and recruitment management” will be part of the strategy and that varying trends in demand for different services and the pandemic recovery mean a uniform approach will not be taken.

The document states: “The Scottish Government is committed to exploring with trade unions and employers further opportunities for developing non-pay benefits. Work has been ongoing to consider standardising the 35-hour working week across public bodies where the pay policy directly applies, to introduce the right to disconnect and where possible to explore a four-day working week.

“In the longer term, this could be an opportunity to limit the cost burden of pay awards to employers, act as a lever to improve productivity, and optimise the role of automation and digitalisation of services, all while creating high-value job opportunities and contributing to the wellbeing economy.”

Supporting documents for the review pledged “continued development” of technology to aid hybrid and flexible working in Scotland’s public sector,  and reviews of the public-sector estate and employee preferences in relation to new working patterns developed during the pandemic.

Research supported by the PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, last year found overwhelming support  among Scottish Government officials for the introduction of a four-day working week. However, backing was based on no change to earnings – a pledge conspicuously absent from the review documents. 

Scottish Government finance secretary Kate Forbes said the Resource Spending Review was “ambitious but realistic”.

“It does not ignore the realities of our financial position, but neither does it roll back on our ambitions for change,” she said.

PCS national officer Cat Boyd said the Resource Spending Review was “an austerity programme wrapped in a saltire” that would “go down like a lead balloon”.

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