Town hall purge on sickness leave
TOWN hall workers who spend long periods off ill are to be targeted in the latest purge on reducing a North Yorkshire council’s sick-leave bill.
A clampdown on absences at Scarborough Council has already resulted in the number of days lost per employee each year being reduced from around nine to seven, according to new figures.
Across all departments the time-off bill has been slashed – saving the public purse nearly 200,000 – and council chiefs want to drive down the number even more this year.
A new report has outlined further measures to ensure that the authority looks after genuine sickness cases while ensuring there is no abuse of the system.
As revealed by the Yorkshire Post, council staff in the region took nearly two million sick days in total last year, staff at some authorities averaging more than two-and-a-half weeks off work each – more than double the figure for the private sector.
As public bodies come under pressure to cut costs and perform more efficiently, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed the total number of sick days taken by Yorkshire’s council employees in 2009-10 was more than 1.9 million.
Local authorities are among the biggest employers in the region and the total cost to Yorkshire taxpayers for sick pay, agency staff and lost productivity for the year is estimated at more than 150m.
A new report to Scarborough Council reveals the average sickness absence for 2009-10 was 7.66 days per employee, a significant improvement on the previous year’s figure of 9.12 days.
But there have been some blips, the tourism and culture service being slightly off target with 70 per cent of its sickness being attributed to long-term absence.
Three of the workers involved have now left the council’s service and an improvement is anticipated in the next quarter.
The Mayor of Scarborough has also recognised the excellent sickness absence records of the council’s workforce by writing to 310 employees who have had no sickness absence recorded in the 12 months to March this year.
Coun Hazel Lynskey thanked them for their excellent sickness record and the valuable contribution they have made to the council’s services.
At present employees have to phone their line manager on the first day of sickness and again on the fourth day, when they agree when they will call again.
However, officials are concerned the system may not be picking up on those who stay under the radar by going off sick in dribs and drabs.
Head of human resources Roger Kaye said: “An additional trigger point of 10 or more days within a 12-month period will be added to the policy to pick up those employees who do not meet the other triggers but still have a relatively high level of absence.
“This would be subject to the line manager reviewing the employees’ overall sickness absence records and making further inquiries.”
Across all departments the cost of sick leave was 608,000 in 2008-9 but a package of measures reduce this to 427,000 in 2009-10.
The biggest single employer within the council is environmental services, since it includes a large number of people not doing desk jobs, such as binmen.
It has nearly 200 employees on its books and in 2008-9 they took more than 2,700 days off sick between them, costing the authority more than 200,000. This year the cost fell to just over 114,500.
n The Freedom of Information Act request showed the best-performing Yorkshire council was Selby in North Yorkshire, where staff took an average of 6.25 sick days last year – less than half that in Doncaster and Craven.