Head of four-day weekly board writing a thesis on flexible working

Liz Watt Cambridge

Liz Watt Cambridge

A council chief who has introduced a four-day week for staff is under pressure to step down after it emerges he is secretly working on a university thesis on the subject.

Liz Watts, chief executive of South Cambridgeshire District Council, introduced the process in January allowing staff to work 20% fewer hours on full pay.

He is now facing calls to resign after it emerged he had never disclosed to residents that he has spent the last three years researching the subject for a doctoral degree at the University of the West of England.

The local MP and the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a campaign group, accused Ms Watts of treating residents as “guinea pigs” to further their careers.

Anthony Browne, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, told the Daily Mail: ‘South Cambs residents will be shocked to have been secretly turned into guinea pigs for an ideological experiment for a doctoral thesis.

“People pay taxes to local government to provide essential services, not to be part of a sociological petri dish to provide data for a PhD to boost the CEO’s career.

“The CEO is responsible for collecting and publishing his own data to prove his deeply held beliefs, a clear conflict of interest that destroys the credibility of the experiment.”

“Clear Conflict of Interest”

He added: “The fact that the CEO and the leader have not disclosed this clear conflict of interest to the entire board or the public shows that they know it is wrong, and it is.

“CEO Liz Watts and board leader Bridget Smith have clearly teamed up to turn residents into guinea pigs for a secret doctoral thesis, and both should step down.”

The board had said the four-day week would make everyone more productive as they would have to fill their normal workload in a shorter amount of time.

A statement on their website advertising the process reads: “It’s not about doing less work. It’s about working smarter and being more productive while we’re at work, with the benefit of having more free time.

“It’s a ‘mutual agreement’ between the board and colleagues.”

However, opposition councilors said it had proved “incredibly difficult” to get through to staff on Mondays and Fridays with knock-on delays for residents, leaving them “upset, frustrated and annoyed”.

Conservative councilor Heather Williams said: “I think the Liberal Democrats have a lot to answer for introducing this four-day week where residents are struggling to pay their bills and have double jobs.”

‘Stop when the Council expires’

Elliot Keck, investigative campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “There is rightly anger at the hubris of using a local authority as an experiment for a four-day working week.

“Families across the country will now worry that South Cambridgeshire won’t be the last local authority to use local taxpayers as a guinea pig.

“It’s time to stop the council clock once and for all.”

The council denied any conflict of interest, arguing that Ms Watts, who earned £133,503 last year, is funding the ‘100 per cent’ qualification herself and is studying to achieve it in her own time.

Bridget Smith, council leader, said: “It is completely normal for senior local government staff to undertake postgraduate qualifications.

“These often involve workplace projects that form part of a dissertation or thesis, benefiting local councils and residents.

“Our decision to try a four-day week was not due to Liz’s study, although we clearly benefit from her extensive knowledge, but rather a result of the recruitment and retention issues facing the board.”

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