Sickness rate discrepancies

IT is striking that the highest sickness rates at councils in Yorkshire can be found at Doncaster and Craven, two local authorities beset by well-documented managerial controversies.

The corporate unrest witnessed at both town halls cannot have helped the wellbeing of the staff concerned – and, therefore, the quality of services provided to taxpayers.

Yet, as the financial cost of staff absenteeism at the region's local authorities emerges, various discrepancies in these figures merit further consideration.

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While absence rates are in excess of a fortnight for each staff member at one- third of Yorkshire's councils, this figure is lower at the remaining authorities. Why?

It is a fundamental question that needs answering, even more so when one considers that every council worker at Doncaster and Craven is off for the equivalent of 12 days a year, though some do have an exemplary attendance record, while their counterparts at Selby are absent for just over six days annually.

Selby Council is clearly proud of its record. It also recognises that an efficient working environment can have far-reaching benefits. As council leader Mark Crane says: "This is about supporting our staff to make sure that they're not absent with things that can be prevented, such as stress or workplace accidents."

Every public sector organisation needs to embrace this mantra. For, despite Selby's welcome success in curbing absenteeism, this model authority still has a staff sickness rate that is in excess – albeit marginally – of the private sector average.

Furthermore, there will be incredulity, given the record funding made available to councils before the cuts kicked in, that the discrepancy between the public sector and private industry remains so pronounced. Many councils, in their defence, will point to the manual nature of many jobs. Yet this also applies to the private sector – and the aforementioned Selby Council.

In short, the status quo cannot continue. For not only are councils short-changing their taxpayers, but poor management clearly has the power to undermine the morale of their staff.