John McDonnell has reportedly held talks with a prominent economist over an independent inquiry into cutting the five-day working week to four.

The shadow chancellor recently hinted Labour was open to exploring the feasibility of the radical policy – saying British employees “work the longest hours in Europe and yet we are less productive”.

Debates over slashing the working week were reignited earlier this year, after the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, said it was an “ambition” for her organisation

The Green Party has already proposed such a move, including it in its manifesto for the 2017 snap election. 

According to the Financial Times, Mr McDonnell has held discussions with the crossbench peer Lord Skidelsky, who told the newspaper he had proposed the idea of an inquiry into “the feasibility of a shorter working week”.

Lord Skidelsky – formerly a Conservative peer – was one of the first prominent economists to praise Jeremy Corbyn during his first leadership contest in 2015.

The peer told the newspaper he had “nothing definite to say” but when pressed on the idea at a briefing in Westminster earlier this week, Mr McDonnell said: “I’ll get back to you on that. I’ll let you know in the next couple of weeks.”

Speaking at the TUC’s annual conference in September, Ms O’Grady used her keynote speech to insist the change to a four-day working week is possible in the 21st century.

“In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays,” she said. “So, for the 21st century, let’s lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone. 

“It’s time to share the wealth from new technology, not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves.”

In a recent interview, the shadow chancellor also praised the union for raising the idea, saying it was “really interesting”.

A Labour source refused to comment on any discussions between Mr McDonnell and Lord Skidelsky, but a spokesperson said: “A four-day working week is not party policy.”



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