Stressed-out council workers cost the borough �1.2million

IPSWICH: The town’s MP today claimed some borough employees were taking advantage of a “generous system” after it emerged staff have taken 30 years off for stress since 2006.

New figures show that 267 employees took more than 7,800 days off in that period, costing the taxpayer more than �1.2million.

One member of staff at Crown Pools leisure centre had a total of two years off in just three years.

Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich, said: “I think it is depressing that sickness rates in the public sector are much higher than those of the private sector.

“I hope that the new administration will do all it can to ensure that people who claim are really ill and not simply wasting taxpayers’ money.

“Of course, there are times when they are telling the truth but I do feel that in some instances people take advantage of a generous system.”

Suzanne Williams, of Unison Ipswich, blamed the situation on the economic downturn and uncertainty over the future.

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Meanwhile, David Ellesmere, the new leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said he was shocked by the level of absenteeism and pledged to work with staff and employers to address the issue.

The cost of paying staff sick leave when stress was cited as the reason for the absence was at its highest in 2006/2007, costing �346,929.

This dropped to �241,394 in 2007/08 and fell again to �144,188 in 2008/09 before rising again to �189,693 the following year.

In 2010/11, it jumped markedly to �329,749. The total cost was �1.25million.

The figures, revealed after a Freedom of Information Act request, show staff at the council – which employs about 1,400 – took an equivalent of 30 years off over that period.

One instance saw a member of staff from the housing services department on leave for almost a year, while an employee of the Business Support unit was absent for 159 days between July 2010 and July 2011.

Ms Williams said: “I think that in the last 12 months, in particular, stress has become more of a factor for employees and this has been noticed.

“People are concerned about the economic downturn and staff at the borough council haven’t had a pay rise in two years. A number of things begin to take their toll.

“The employers are taking notice of this and have a great interest in helping staff to reduce the number of days off.”

Staff working in swimming pools racked up 69 weeks’ sick leave, while those working under the banner of car parks were revealed as being the most stressed with more than two years worth of sick leave. In addition, a member of staff at Crown Pools had 11 stints of sickness for stress – totting up to two years worth of absences in just three years between January 2006 and August 2009.

Mr Ellesmere said: “The levels of stress and the amount it cost under the previous administration is shocking – these were times of significant redundancies.

“We are detemined to work both with our staff and with employers to make sure that stress is less of a factor.”

An Ipswich Borough Council spokeswoman added: “Ipswich Borough Council takes staff welfare very seriously. At the end of last year, IBC conducted a staff survey and the new administration has supported to action plan that was produced following the survey.

“Whilst generally positive, the staff survey highlighted the following issues where there is now a new focus to achieve improvements – better internal communications, better staff recognition, improved change management, better appraisals and one to ones and addressing bullying and harassment.”

n Do you think stress is an issue at the borough council? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to