The Daily Telegraph

Scottish civil servants given an hour a week to ‘chill out’

- By Simon Johnson scottish political editor

SCOTTISH civil servants have been given an extra hour a week to “chill out” with no reduction in pay.

The Wellbeing Hour pilot scheme encourages officials to reduce their stress levels by taking time out for activities such as yoga, reading, walking or painting. Civil servants can choose how they spend their additional free time, which cuts a typical full-time working week to 36 hours.

Critics raised concerns about the cost after Shona Robison, the SNP finance secretary, admitted in May that the Scottish Government’s day-to-day spending “could outstrip our funding” by £1 billion in 2024-25, rising to £1.9 billion in 2027-28.

The Scottish Government insisted there was no additional cost but The Scottish Sun estimated that officials will be paid the equivalent of around £7million a year in respect of the hour.

The Welsh Government has previously launched a similar initiative, allowing staff to take the entire hour in one go or several smaller breaks. Their Wellbeing Hour can also be added on to designated lunch breaks, or can be used to start work late or to finish early. Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s then permanent secretary, expressed an interest in replicatin­g the scheme in 2018 and the pilot began in July.

Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Tories’ shadow economy secretary, said: “This may be well intentione­d but right now, when all government budgets and resources are being squeezed, the public will question whether it is affordable and whether it ought to be a priority.”

John O’connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, added: “While ministers squeeze ever more tax out of pay packets, bureaucrat­s are being granted a siesta. The Scottish Government should put a stop to this pilot.”

It is a civil service policy rather than one pushed through by Humza Yousaf ’s Snp-green administra­tion and its impact will be analysed next summer.

The initiative has been extremely popular among Welsh civil servants, with one member of the Prospect trade union stating in 2018: “I spent my hour today with colleagues walking through a shady wood on the outskirts of Aberystwyt­h admiring wild flowers in bloom. It left me feeling calm, refreshed and ready to face the afternoon’s work.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Government is piloting a scheme to support employees’ physical and mental health and to evaluate the impact on staff productivi­ty.”

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