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Revealed: Which council has worst staff sickness rates in Northern Ireland?

By Rebecca Black

Published 23/06/2015

Workers at Ballymoney Council had the highest sickness rate of any of the old local authorities in Northern Ireland - and it was worse than any part of the Civil Service here, an official report has revealed.

In the last financial year of the old 26 councils up to April 1, there was an average sickness absence rate of 11.63 days annually in Ballymoney Council, the local government auditor found.

The Northern Ireland Civil Service average is 10.1 days per employee. Former Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said last October that the Civil Service had failed to reduce the sickness rate to the target of nine days.

The highest figure in the Civil Service was 15.1 days per year in the Prison Service where anxiety, stress and depression accounted for nearly a third of sick days.

But last year Ballymoney Council had an even higher sickness rate, with 15.88 days lost per employee.

Coleraine was only slightly behind with an average of 15.55, and North Down employees took 15.02 days off on sick leave.

At the other end of the scale, workers at Fermanagh Council were absent due to illness for just 5.91 days.

Local Government Auditor Louise Mason noted that the combination of the new 11 council structure with reduced funding from central government will bring about a period of uncertainty for councils and their staff, and urged the authorities to "rigorously manage" absence.

The report also revealed that five council workers received a six-figure exit package last year.

The end of Northern Ireland's old 26-council structure led to 49 exit packages at a cost to ratepayers of £1.9m. Of this, nearly 76% was paid out by just three councils, while 11 did not pay out for any exit packages in 2013-14.

Five of these packages were worth more than £100,000.

One of these is likely to have been that of former Derry City Council chief executive Sharon O'Connor, who received a £275,000 'golden handshake' upon leaving her role.

The report found that there was a small increase in the number of staff employed by councils in the last financial year, even though they were preparing to be merged with others.

Staff costs represent almost 37.5% of council spending, amounting to more than £309m in 2013-14 - an increase of 3.1% from 2012-13. Councils spent £825m last year, employing the equivalent of more than 9,600 full-time staff, and utilised assets worth more than £1,900m.

The bulk of council funding (66%) comes from district rates (£531m), with other monies coming from central government, service fees and capital grants.

Most of the money is spent on leisure and recreation services (£342m) and environmental services such as bins and street cleaning (£298m).

All of Northern Ireland's old 26 councils also had outstanding loans totalling £471.3m at the end of the financial year, which fall by £1.9m since March 2013.

North Down Council carried over the biggest loans (£47.7m) followed by Newtownabbey (£43.8m). Cookstown had the lowest outstanding loan (£1.3m).

Belfast Telegraph

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