EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Cambridge City Council, United Kingdom: Comprehensive approach


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Public sector
Target Groups: 
Initiative Types: 
Comprehensive approach


Organisational background


Cambridge City Council is one of the five district councils in Cambridgeshire in east-central England. It is composed of 14 wards, with three councillors elected in each ward, numbering 42 city councillors in total.

At present, the city council employs 1,150 employees and provides services such as building control, refuse collection, environmental planning and housing services. The council also employs about 200 occasional employees, who work mainly in community centres and are responsible for organising city events. In all, 30% of employees are men, most of whom are employed in city services, while 70% are women, the majority of whom work in community services.

The city council acknowledges that it has an ageing workforce, as a large proportion of its employees have been employed by the council for more than 20 years. From 2001 to 2004, up to 41 employees aged over 50 years were recruited and the number of applicants aged over 50 years continues to rise.

Equal opportunities and diversity policies are in place within the council and show that the council is committed to opposing age discrimination at the workplace. It is common practice that training programmes, health and well-being measures, and redeployment arrangements include older workers. During the past two years, the council has recognised that employees wish to work for longer and has recently amended its training programmes to meet employees’ needs. In addition, since its workforce is ageing and as it is important that all employees have equal rights in terms of pay increases, a ‘performance initiative’ has been introduced. This initiative stipulates that all employees’ salaries depend on their performance levels and not on their years of service.

The council appears to have good relations with its trade unions. Human resource (HR) managers and union representatives meet on a monthly basis and discuss the proposed employment initiatives.

The original initiative

Policies relating to recruitment, training programmes, health and well-being measures, and retirement arrangements have already been set up by Cambridge City Council. These initiatives were implemented after the council realised, along with most local governments in the UK, that in the near future it would have an ageing workforce. The original initiatives have largely remained in place with changes introduced as necessary. Some alterations have been made to the health and well-being measures, such as extended disability leave for employees who need it. Moreover, the training programmes have been expanded to meet employee requirements. Even though some training and development programmes have always been available to employees, additional training apprenticeships have recently been introduced to allow older workers to acquire new skills, especially workers who wish to change their job and to transfer to another post within the council.

A major policy change has been introduced to the retirement arrangements, whereby the council now encourages its employees to remain in employment for longer instead of retiring early. Changes relating to training programmes and retirement arrangements are linked to the council’s realisation that its workforce is ageing; however, they are mainly a result of the government’s effort to change the traditional ethos of early retirement and to reduce the cost of the pension scheme, which has put pressure on local authorities to gradually eliminate the ‘culture of early retirement’. Training programmes seem to have positive outcomes in retaining older employees in the council for longer and the new retirement arrangements also seem to be successful because many ageing employees have been willing to be redeployed to other council posts.

Good practice today

Along with the original initiatives, which remain largely in place, the council has introduced two initiatives that affect the entire workforce:

  • Wage policy – in 2001, the council carried out a job evaluation process. The results of this evaluation were implemented in January 2004 and brought about a new pay structure: currently, there are nine pay bands where the salary ranges from £10,668–£13,581 (€15,513–€19,749) in the first band to £32,847–£40,037 (€47,765–€58,221) in the ninth band. Along with the new pay structure, the council introduced performance-based wages, which means that incremental probation no longer depends on employees’ years of service but on the objectives they achieve. At present, an employee will receive a pay increase depending on both the national cost of living and personal performance level. This change has resulted from three factors: the impending age legislation due out on 1 October 2006, which calls for more equality and transparency within local authorities; persistent difficulties in recruiting legal and accounting staff in local authorities, as they prefer to look for employment in the private sector; and the need to present a workforce planning document to the Audit Commission by March 2006, which had to outline what staff were needed, in which departments, etc. The council was also required to produce a ‘Best value performance plan’ by June 2006, indicating how the council is performing in terms of its objectives, and how it plans to develop and improve its services.
  • Awareness-raising programmes – in the past 18 months, the council has organised awareness-raising programmes, where all employees have been informed about new legislative acts to be implemented on the issues of sexual orientation and religion. New age legislation will be adopted in 2006, which will require the introduction of similar awareness-raising programmes.

The creation and implementation of these initiatives have been discussed between unions and managers. In addition, a working group on diversity issues has been recently established to examine and ensure that there is diversity in employment; the group also participates in the regular meetings between managers and unions.

Gender issues are also taken into consideration in policymaking. In recent times, an increased number of older women are applying to return to work after having been away from the formal working environment for a long time. Since they have gaps in their employment history, managers who recruit, train and set the salary level must take this into consideration.

Today, the life-course dimension is more frequently taken into account when creating these initiatives than it was 10 years ago. Cambridge City Council acknowledges the value of older employees because of their levels of experience and intends to continue its good practice measures in order to retain them for as long as possible.

It is too early to assess the outcomes and consequences of these recent initiatives introduced by the council. Certain arrangements are still in place based on time served by employees (e.g. annual leave, long service awards); nonetheless, other policies relating to salary, benefits and flexible working hours now depend on performance levels. The council hopes that these changes will be beneficial, as the more motivated and better skilled employees will be retained. It also hopes that the awareness-raising programmes will demonstrate to all employees the risks of age discrimination and the importance of equality and diversity in the workplace. Moreover, the council is soon to redraft its equal opportunities and diversity policies to address age-related issues, in addition to the topics of disability, gender and ethnicity. It also aims to revise its policies relating to flexible work arrangements; such arrangements have traditionally focused on parents and carers but not on older employees. As a first step, the council sent out questionnaires to assess older employees’ needs and preferences; this was followed by the setting up of focus groups to process the survey results and to decide on what initiatives should be implemented to offer flexible work arrangements to older staff.

Further information

Contact: Karen Price, email:


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