Sick days cost taxpayers £14million

SICK days taken by county staff cost Suffolk tax payers a staggering £14million last year, up £2million on the previous figure, the Evening Star can reveal today.

SICK days taken by county staff cost Suffolk tax payers a staggering £14million last year, up £2million on the previous figure, the Evening Star can reveal today.

New figures show that for the 12 months to April this year a staggering 127,302 days were lost to staff absence, an average of 8.4 days per employee.

The cost of the absences totalled £14.26million, up around 10.5 per cent or £1.97million on the previous year when 109,755 days were lost.

In total over the past five years taxpayers have footed the bill for £64.4million lost due to staff sickness.

The statistics, released following a Freedom of Information request by the Star, come at a time when morale among staff at Suffolk County Council is low.

A survey conducted earlier this year found council staff are increasingly feeling overworked and underpaid.

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Andrew Cann, deputy leader of the county's Lib Dem group, said the situation is a result of the current Tory administration, citing below inflation pay increases and the threat of job losses as two factors that could explain the jump in absences.

He said: “Frontline staff are finding it more difficult to get their job done at a time of cuts and a time when their very jobs are under threat by the Tory administration.

“The county council needs to address this urgently.”

The 8.4 day average absence of council staff in Suffolk is above the national average of 6.7 days.

The average for the private sector is 5.8 days while the average for the public sector is close to nine days.

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, denied the jump in absences was down to poor morale.

He said the only reason for the jump in staff sickness was down to a new way of logging absences, denying there is low morale among staff at the authority.

He said: “We have got a much better HR self-service system in place now which records much more accurately than ever before the number of days lost.

“My experience is that the morale here is good.”

A council spokesman said an improved policy and guidance framework has been piloted in adult and community services, with greater training for managers to intervene quickly when staff are absent and follow up absences with return to work interviews.

n. Do you work for the council? Is staff morale low? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Paul Aldous, chair of the Suffolk branch of Unison, said the figures coincide with a stressful time for employees.

“I suspect it may well be down to stress factors as a result of massive changes within local government.

“During the local government review last year most people thought a unitary Ipswich would be created.

“Obviously that has a knock-on effect on staff morale and potentially leads to increased levels of stress because of uncertainty about the future.

“There have also been massive budget cuts with securing the future and when there is massive change afoot people get very stressed and take time off work as a result.”

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