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We’re building a movement of councils committed to driving flexible working

Local councils are uniquely placed to drive flexible working, both for their own workforce and within their communities. Our new Fair Flexible Councils programme, developed in partnership with Camden Council, offers strategic and practical support that can deliver widespread change.

By Dr Sarah Dauncey, Head of Partnerships and Practice, Timewise

The twin pressures of the post-pandemic recovery and the cost of living crisis are causing local councils to refocus their priorities. Driven by a need to reduce the inequalities which have been exacerbated by these pressures, and to support those most in need to thrive, councils across the UK are stepping up their activity on good work initiatives and wider plans to foster growth.

These priorities are unquestionably the right ones. Creating good quality jobs is not only key to raising living standards; it’s also a critical part of addressing skills shortages and supporting growth. But if councils are also to tackle inequality, and bring currently inactive residents into the workforce, they need to make sure that the jobs offered by local employers have flexibility built in.

And as major employers themselves, councils must also take action to enable flexible working in a fair and consistent way for their own employees, from housing officers to social workers to refuse collectors.

Recognising the scale of the challenge that councils are facing, we have been working in partnership with Camden Council to develop a new model that would use all the available levers to drive sustainable change. The result is our new programme, Fair Flexible Councils, which builds on our long-established accreditation model and reflects the current context and priorities.

And while we’re delighted that Camden have committed to working with us to put this programme into practice, our aims run far higher. We know that all councils are facing similar issues; if we can bring them together and build momentum, the impact will be so much greater, at both an individual and a labour market level. It’s our hope that this programme will do exactly that.

Collaborating with Camden to design a new model for action

Camden’s commitment to the flexible working agenda is well-established and we have worked with them for a number of years to develop their practice as an employer. But the intensification of inequalities resulting from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has led the council to take strategic decisions to step up action on inclusive growth.

So, as flexible working is a key part of this work, we came together to develop a new approach. One that would allow Camden to achieve joined-up, coordinated action across their services, while also widening the availability of flexible working options among site-based and frontline teams.

Our work together began with a period of consultation across the council. We sought to understand what was already working well, to identify what skills and resources they already had in place, and to explore what factors might be getting in the way of successful outcomes.

We then used these specific learnings, and our wider experience, to develop a Fair Flexible Councils framework. This sets out what councils need to do with and for their own workforce, and also recognises the role they can play as place-makers and anchor organisations to widen access to flexible working across their locality.

As pioneers who helped us to develop the programme and framework, Camden have set themselves some ambitious goals, and developed a comprehensive action plan to deliver them. The impact of their plans to widen access to flexible working will be assessed through KPIs, with internal working groups established and tasked with monitoring progress.

How the programme will help councils overcome their challenges

So, how will the Fair Flexible Councils programme work in practice? In terms of outcomes, it has been designed to support councils in tackling three specific challenges:

  • Reducing workforce disparities by exploring how to offer time-based flexibility for frontline workers within the council’s own workforce, for whom placed-based flex (such as remote working) is not an option. This will help avoid the development of two-tier workforces in which only those in office-based roles have access to flexibility.
  • Navigating the cost of living crisis by understanding how to create and offer flexible roles that allow residents who cannot work full-time to access the workplace. For parents, carers, older workers and people with long-term health conditions, being able to work flexibly is often the only way to work at all. More, better flexible jobs, offered at the point of hire, will create a pathway back into the workplace.
  • Overcoming skills shortages by offering practical advice and innovative solutions to local employers, which will support them to make more jobs open to flexibility. This in turn will widen the pool of potential candidates from which employers can recruit, and lead to a more diverse, inclusive workforce.

To achieve these outcomes, participating councils will be given access to the following support from Timewise:

  • 8 expert workshops for senior leaders across HR and inclusive growth teams, guiding them through the Fair Flexible Council framework and developing their skills and capabilities.
  • Access to Timewise consultancy support and advice on an individual basis, as plans are developed and refined. This will include our input on action plans and KPIs to ensure impact and alignment with corporate commitments.
  • Timewise employer and provider toolkits and resources to share across internal teams and with other partner organisations (such as suppliers and employability intermediaries).

Critically, the programme has a far wider reach than just the councils’ own employees. It’s built on a ‘train the trainer’ model, through which the skills we teach internal teams will be passed on to others. For example, we are equipping Camden staff who work in employability to build capability among their business and employment support teams, who will then share their learnings with the employers and candidates they work with.

Join our movement – and help change workplaces for the better, for all

Our Fair Flexible Councils programme will be open to all UK councils from Spring 2023. We’re keen to use this programme as a platform to deliver tangible, lasting change for communities across the UK, and the more councils who take part, the more powerful we can be. Will you join us?

There’s more detailed information about what the programme entails here. Or if you have any questions about how it could work for your organisation, please contact

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