Sick leave costs Hull Council £2.5m in just nine months

Hull Council Cabinet member Coun Phil Webster
Hull Council Cabinet member Coun Phil Webster
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INCREASING levels of long-term sickness are being blamed for the soaring bill for agency workers being taken on by a cash-strapped Yorkshire council.

Hull Council’s bill has risen to £2.5m for the past nine months from £1.8m two years ago, despite a policy agency staff should only be used when there is “no alternative”.

A report also blames the council’s voluntary redundancy programme, leaving vital job roles empty, which have to be filled.

But today Cabinet member Coun Phil Webster suggested managers were failing to get a grip on stubbornly high sickness rates - and said he no longer wanted hiring agency staff to be an “easy option”.

Long-term sickness now accounts for 37 per cent of the 130,616 hours which have had to be covered by agency workers at a cost of £2.499m so far this financial year. Around 16 per cent was due to “recruitment in progress” and 15 per cent to “planned peaks in workload.”

Coun Webster, who holds the human resources brief, said: “Managers have failed to manage. It is something they need to get a grip of. There’s anecdotal evidence of people rotaring in sickness thinking ‘I’m going to have some time off sick or I’ve had no time sick off this year.’

“It’s not acceptable, it’s taxpayers money. Because we pay two people on sick we are having to pay two people to do one job. We are trying to reduce staff, not increase them.”

He said a recent crack-down in streetscene services had proved a success: “Historically we have had a lot of people having a day off sick on Monday.

“Instead of letting that slide they have to go through an interview process. If they are found to be swinging the lead there’s the disciplinary process hovering on the horizon.”

In total last year the council employed the equivalent of 82 extra full-time staff, including at least 16 socialworkers, but also hiring in cover for everyone from occupational therapists to admin staff and binmen.

Officers have suggested using a single agency only, but Coun Webster said they’d asked for alternatives, including looking at having a full list of pool workers and possibly sharing them with other local authorities.