Belfast Telegraph

Sickness levels of council staff is up by 15% in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

Sickness rates among council employees in Northern Ireland have surged by 15%, a new report reveals.

Staff miss an average of 12 days a year because of ill health.

The highest absence rate was at Carrickfergus Borough Council, where workers were missing for an average 17.2 days.

Based on a five-day working week, that is the equivalent of each employee being off sick for three and a half weeks a year.

The figures are contained in the latest annual report by local government auditor Louise Mason.

Other key findings from her report include:

  • Departing staff received £6.6million in golden handshakes in the last three years, including at least seven who got more than £100,000
  • A growing debt burden, with local authorities having outstanding loans worth £473m, and,
  • Concerns over the use of agency staff, with the bill for temps climbing to £13.8m. The Local Government Auditor's Report investigates various aspects of councils' performance, including finances and staffing.

The 2014 edition, published today, draws concerns over the rising level of sick leave at our councils.

Although absenteeism across the local government sector had fallen in the last five years, today's report shows a 15% hike.

In 2012/13 - the latest available figures - staff missed an average of 11.77 days each, up from 10.27 days in the previous 12 months.

It ranged from the 17.2 days missed at Carrickfergus Borough Council to Cookstown District Council, where just 6.6 days were lost.

Seven councils saw an increase in absence of more than 2.5 days per employee, with Down District Council (5.4 days) having the biggest rise.

Today's report notes that one council had to introduce an interim organisational structure due to the extent of sickness absence at senior levels.

Council absence rates are higher than in the civil service, where a recent report showed the average sickness rate was 10 days per employee.

Today's report also reveals that £6.6m has been paid out in exit packages to departing council staff in the last three years.

However, the figure has fallen significantly from £2.6m in 2010/11 to £1.5m in 2012/13.

The most recent total relates to 55 exit packages, with around half of the £1.5m paid by just three councils.

Turning to council debt, the report reveals that just one of our 26 councils, Magherafelt, is debt- free.

The other 25 have outstanding loans ranging from £1.4m (Cookstown) to £49.4m (North Down), and totalling £473.2m.

Factfile

Northern Ireland's 26 councils spend more than £800million each year, employ 9,700 staff and utilise assets worth more than £2billion.

Today's report comments on a range of topics arising from audit work in councils, and is published by local government auditor Louise Mason, who is responsible for looking at the accounts and spending of all 26 councils.

From next April these 26 local authorities will be replaced by the 11 so-called supercouncils.

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