Tories claim Nicola Sturgeon's four-day week plan for Scotland would cost taxpayers £3 billion A YEAR as part of an SNP election manifesto 'fantasy wish list'” – Daily Mail headline, April 17, 2021.


The SNP ARE spending £4 million – not £3bn – on a pilot experiment to see if a four-day week is feasible. Similar studies in England vindicate the idea. Opinion polls in the UK show a four-day week is very popular.


Following the publication of the SNP Holyrood manifesto on April 16, Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories claimed that the SNP planned to introduce a four-day working week in the public sector, and that this would cost the taxpayer an extra £3bn in taxes. The obvious first point is that the SNP manifesto does not propose the immediate introduction of a mandatory four-day working week after the May 6 Holyrood election or even after Scottish independence.

The National:

The manifesto actually says: “Covid-19 changed the way we work almost overnight. As we recover from the pandemic, we want to do more to support people achieve a healthy work-life balance. We also want to keep the total number of people in employment high. As part of this, we will establish a £10m fund to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four-day working week. We will use the learning from this to consider a more general shift to a four-day working week as and when Scotland gains full control of employment rights.” (page 49)

So the SNP are proposing to spend only £4m on a pilot scheme, not £3bn on an immediate implementation of a four-day working week. The Tories exaggerate the cost of the pilot by a modest 750 times, which does not suggest Douglas Ross is good at figures.


Where did the Tories get their £3bn number? The Conservative analysis cites official Scottish Government staffing costs of £8.291bn for 2019-20. They argue that because this cost would in future cover four days per week, an additional 25% would be needed to cover a fifth day in services that have to be staffed five days a week, including the NHS and the Scottish Prison Service. This figure is therefore £2.073bn, plus an additional £942m to cover other public services, eg schools, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service.

READ MORE: FACT CHECK: Jackie Baillie's claim that money meant for the NHS was used elsewhere

The problem here is that the Scottish Conservatives have deliberately misrepresented the notion behind the four-day working week concept. They assume work time is cut by a fifth for existing workers while pay remains the same, while the “lost” day would have to be replaced by hiring extra workers.

However, the key argument by advocates of a four-day week is that the same work is covered in less time – leaving the cost of output the same. Or that attempts are made to cover the same output over four working days, even if daily hours are extended somewhat, in a bid to give workers three whole days with their families. The aim is a better work-life balance.


It is fair to ask what the roll-out of a four-day week would cost. As the SNP are proposing a limited experiment with a reduced work week, we will not know the actual answer until the experiment has been carried out. However, a number of similar studies have been carried out in other countries that could be a guide.

In 2018, a New Zealand financial services company called Perpetual Guardian switched its 240 staff from a five-day to a four-day week, while maintaining their pay. The company reported that staff completed the same amount of work in the reduced time. Workers reported stress levels were down from 45% to 38%. Effectively, that study suggests a four-day week will not increase business costs and may make staff more productive.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon has set out plans to explore a four-day working weekNicola Sturgeon has set out plans to explore a four-day working week

A study by researchers at Reading University in 2019 found that 51% of companies which adopted a four-day week said the change had enabled them to actually save costs. These savings were the result of staff taking fewer days off in sick leave, higher productivity and a better quality of work.

International comparisons of work time are also useful. Countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Norway work the fewest number of hours and yet have the highest levels of productivity. UK productivity is currently around 27% below that of Germany, whose workers toil far few hours. The difference in productivity is such that if German workers were to down tools on Thursday lunchtime, they would have produced as much as a British worker would have by the end of Friday.

All of which suggests that a four-day working week – properly organised – might be largely self-financing.


The Scottish Conservatives have also branded the overall SNP manifesto as a “fantasy” because it would require doubling the Holyrood budget (to £95bn). Is this true?

The £95bn figure is a Tory calculation which is doubtless a political exaggeration. However, the Scottish Tories appear to be relying on a criticism of the SNP budget figures from the independent (but hardly non-partisan) Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Reading the (very) small print indicates that the IFS paper on the SNP manifesto is funded by the Scottish Policy Foundation whose “advisory board” includes Douglas Alexander (ex-Labour MP) and Lord Dunlop (Tory peer and ex-advisor to David Cameron).

According to the IFS report: “The SNP’s manifesto offers big gains to a number of targeted groups in Scotland – but would involve difficult trade-offs in a tight budgetary environment”. However, “a tight budgetary environment” is hardly new in Tory Britain.

The IFS goes on to note: “The SNP commits to increasing front-line health spending by at least 20% over the next parliament…” That sounds ambitious. But read further on and the IFS admits this NHS budget projection “similar to the average annual real-terms growth in Scottish health spending over the past five years…” So in fact the SNP is offering to do what it did successfully before.


A four-day week is popular with the public. Three-quarters of UK workers polled by YouGov in 2019 backed the policy. Another own goal by Douglass Ross?


Douglas Ross 0, Nicola Sturgeon 10.

The National: National Fact Check False