North Norfolk District Council's Lib Dem leaders have been accused of being open to trialling a four-day working week against government guidance and backlash from taxpayers.

Conservative councillor Cristopher Cushing said it is the “desired intention” of the Lib Dem-controlled council to trial a four-day week in the future after a motion for the local authority to follow the government's guidance was rejected.

The government recently issued non-statutory guidance for local councils stating it ‘does not support a four-day working week’ as working 20pc less each week in the public sector ‘does not deliver local taxpayers’ value for money’.

It comes as a trial of the four-day week is currently taking place at South Cambridgeshire District Council. Norwich City Council was recently criticised for saying it would “explore the benefits” of the scheme

North Norfolk News: North Norfolk District CouncilNorth Norfolk District Council (Image: Newsquest)

But the Lib Dems say the guidance is a government attempt to "vilify" local councils - both “limiting their autonomy" and "stifling innovation”.

They accused the Tory, Mr Cushing, of “pandering to political posturing”.

Councillor Tim Adams, leader of North Norfolk District Council, said the council has “no plans” to trial the scheme.

“It’s not in our action plan, we have not discussed or agreed any such proposals," Mr Adams said.

“We should and we will learn from the experience in South Cambridgeshire. The model has been given no time at all in local government before people are trying to pull it apart – the politicians and Taxpayers’ Alliance - which I think is deeply unfair.”

North Norfolk News: Tim Adams, leader of North Norfolk District CouncilTim Adams, leader of North Norfolk District Council (Image: NNDC)

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Companies across the UK - including Platten’s Fish and Chips in Wells-next-the-Sea – have been trialling four-day weeks.

But the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a pressure group campaigning for reform of the tax system, has argued the scheme should be kept well away from the public sector.

Lib Dem councillor Lucy Shires said "councils are meant to be testing ground for new and effective ways of working including potential changes to the traditional working week".

North Norfolk News: Lucy Shires, Portfolio Holder for Finance, Estates and Property Services at North Norfolk District CouncilLucy Shires, Portfolio Holder for Finance, Estates and Property Services at North Norfolk District Council (Image: NNDC)

“One of the core objectives of devolution is to foster innovation and adaptability at a local level," she said.

“The government stance restricts this capacity for local innovation, limiting the ability of councils to tailor work arrangement to specific community and workforce needs.

“The government position also clashes with the devolutionary goal of local governments to develop economic and social strategies that reflect their unique circumstances.

“A four-day working week has been linked to numerous benefits including increased productivity employee well-being and environmental sustainability.”

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Councillor Sarah Butikofer, chairman of the council, said the government should “take a plank out of their own eye” before “taking a splinter” out of that of local councils for trialling the scheme.

North Norfolk News: Sarah Bütikofer, chairman of North Norfolk District CouncilSarah Bütikofer, chairman of North Norfolk District Council (Image: NNDC)

“As we all know, councils across the country are facing a recruitment and retention crisis, and this has been compounded by Conservative cuts to local government meaning increased funding is not a viable option,” she said.

“Councils have been forced to innovate to respond, and South Cambridgeshire is no different in this regard.

“This is the 21st century not the 1800s, and people working in the public sector expect to be treated no different to their colleagues in the private sector.

“Yes, the public absolutely have a right to expect that service levels are maintained and that positive outcomes for residents, local businesses and staff are at worse maintained at current levels, but always striving for better.”

Fellow Lib Dem COuncillor Liz Withington accused Mr Cushing, who tabled the motion, of “pandering to political posturing”.  

North Norfolk News: Liz Withington, Portfolio Holder for Community, Leisure and Outreach at North Norfolk District CouncilLiz Withington, Portfolio Holder for Community, Leisure and Outreach at North Norfolk District Council (Image: NNDC)

“The fact that you ask for it and you ask us to support this government guidance suggests to me that you pandering to political posturing and the democratic process is either a novelty or not at the heart of the way you operate,” she said.

“This government talks a good game about devolution of powers, yet when a council leader steps up and takes brave decisions to take their council forwards they jump in and vilify them at the first opportunity.

“Perhaps they should get their own house in order before attacking the frontline of providing support to their residents.”

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Mr Cushing responded: “It is interesting listening raucous response from the Lib Dem members to this that - though it may not be top of your agenda, and indeed I’m sure you probably aren’t planning to do it within the next four years - clearly there would be desired intention to do so if you had the chance.

“That’s what I take away from this and I suspect that is what many residents will take away from this. Not many will be as enthusiastic about the principle of a four-day working week as you are.”

North Norfolk News: Cristopher Cushing, leader of the opposition (Conservative Group leader) at North Norfolk District CouncilCristopher Cushing, leader of the opposition (Conservative Group leader) at North Norfolk District Council (Image: North Norfolk District Council)

The motion failed, with 22 votes against and 11 for.