Tuesday, 27 Feb 2024

Cambridge academics face questions over four-day week report

Cambridge academics face questions over independence of report praising introduction of four-day week after emails emerge showing it was edited by council before being published

  • Academics reviewed trial of changed working hours and hailed it great success 

Cambridge University academics are facing questions about the independence of their glowing assessment of the first town hall to introduce a four-day week.

The university’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy reviewed data from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s initial three-month trial of the radical change to working hours, and hailed it a great success.

However, it can be revealed that behind the scenes academics actually allowed the council to edit their report.

Researchers claimed in May that their ‘rigorous analysis’ had shown that giving staff an extra day off every week boosts wellbeing, increases productivity and in some areas even improves performance.

Meanwhile, the town hall said the institute was ‘asked to independently review’ the data to ‘ensure it was analysed without any risk of bias’.

Cambridge University academics are facing questions about the independence of their glowing assessment of the first town hall to introduce a four-day week. Pictured: A general view of Cambridge University

But emails between the two bodies, obtained by the TaxPayers’ Alliance under the Freedom of Information Act, show how the council made changes after being sent an early draft of the document.

In one message sent on April 13, a month before the report was published, an unidentified council official wrote: ‘At first glance, there may be a bit too much detail (given that the report is going to be published and there will be a lot of people who are keen to rip the 4DW [four-day week] apart).

‘Is it OK if I track proposed changes and send them over to you and you say whether you’re OK with them?’ 

Five minutes later, a Cambridge researcher replied: ‘Yes sure – just use Track Changes and then we’ll work towards a version that works for you!’

On May 1, two weeks before publication, a researcher emailed a proposed quote endorsing the trial that would be used in a council press release. 

‘What do you think? Happy to tweak it if needed,’ the academic said.

Elliot Keck, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Taxpayers can smell a rat from a mile away. This so-called independent report now looks like the sham that many expected it might be. 

‘Local bosses should throw up their hands, scrap the experiment and get back to a full-time council.’

The university’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy reviewed data from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s initial three-month trial of the radical change to working hours, and hailed it a great success. Pictured: South Cambridgeshire District Council

But the Bennett Institute insisted: ‘The institute’s evaluation… was independent. It was not commissioned by (the council). 

‘There was a normal process of discussion and minor changes to the draft report and press release, correctly described in the email correspondence as “tweaks”. The institute has not taken any stance on the pilot scheme.’

The council – which is under pressure from ministers to scrap the experiment – added: ‘The Bennett Institute… independently reviewed the council’s data from the trial, to ensure it was analysed without any risk of bias.’

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