Scottish officials to trial four-day working week

Pilot to assess "wellbeing, environmental, and productivity benefits" of shorter week will begin later this year
Photo: Kay Roxby/Alamy Stock Photo

Scottish civil servants could be among the first public sector workers to trial a four-day work week through a pilot programme beginning this year.

The Scottish Government will begin piloting the reduced-hours scheme in some public services by the end of the year, it revealed in the 2023-24 Programme for Government, which sets out plans for the upcoming year.

The pilot will aim “to assess the wellbeing, environmental, and productivity benefits the four-day working week could bring”, according to the PfG document, published yesterday.

The document was published following reports that first minister Humza Yousaf was planning to announce the four-day week trial for civil servants.

Sources indicated that the pilot will run for around a year and is likely to include arm’s-length bodies rather than ministerial departments. Some government enterprise agencies – which promote economic development in Scottish regions – are understood to be interested in taking part.

The trial comes two years after the 2021-22 PfG set out plans to support pilots of a four-day working week in the private sector. The scheme – which followed a manifesto promise by then-first minister Nicola Sturgeon ahead of the 2021 general election – committed £10m to a pilot scheme to support companies that signed up.

Last year’s Resource Spending Review said parts of the public sector would be invited to “participate” in the scheme.

A 2021 survey found 87% of Scottish Government officials backed the idea of piloting a cross-government four-day week, while 84% said they believed they could adapt their current work processes to shorter working hours.

The trial will be part of a suite of public sector reform measures, which also include improving the efficacy and buying power of public procurement through “progressive procurement policy and practice” and reducing the public sector property footprint.

Procurement plans will aim to make public procurement more consistent; leverage collaborative buying power; and promote sustainability such as climate action, fair work, and community benefits through public supply chains.

The document said the little-publicised Single Scottish Estate programme would deliver a “more efficient approach to public sector property management” by reducing the size of the estate and moving towards net-zero targets.

Little detail has so far been published about the programme, but the Scottish Government's medium-term financial strategy in May said its aims were to “support publicly funded bodies to work across organisational boundaries to co-locate, share on-site services wherever possible, make best use of technology and changes in working practices to optimise the estate footprint and release surplus space”. It gave the example of public bodies using hybrid working to reduce the need for office space, which could then be sub-let to other organisations.

Other planned reforms set out in the PfG include delivering a framework for digital service transformation with a focus on end-to-end services. This will include work to catalogue public sector assets and continue to develop and rollout digital identity, payment and cloud services.

It also said the government would “focus on service delivery and leadership skills, continuing to work closely with public bodies on our public service reform programme”. The Scottish Government has said it wants to reduce public sector headcount and to keep paybill costs to 2022-23 levels. It has asked public bodies to submit plans for delivering reform by later this year, in order to inform the 2024-25 budget.

The PfG document said reforms would help to ensure the work of public services “remains affordable in 2024-25 and sustainable in future years, while improving outcomes, reducing inequalities, and preventing harm”.

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