Council sickies - 'The number of days off is at a new high'

IT HAS become one of the characteristics of the recession that sickness absence rates have hit record low levels across the UK.

The fear that poor attendance might lead to being singled out for redundancy appears to have kept many people clocking in when they might have stayed in bed.

This phenomenon has been reported by private firms and public sector employers alike up and down the country, yet the city council appears to be bucking the trend, with the number of days lost to sickness at a five-year high.

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The biggest rise within the authority has been in the services for communities department, whose staff include the bin men who have been locked in on-going industrial action over changes to their pay and working practices.

Whatever your view of the dispute, it has to be acknowledged that these have been difficult times for the city's bin men, and there may be some genuine cases of stress among them.

But the sickness rate across the council as a whole is 9.2 days per year compared to 8.3 days taken by the average public worker.

The national average has fallen, from a pre-recession high of nine days, in 2007, yet it is still way above the 5.8 days taken by the average private sector employee.

The situation serves as yet another reminder of how far public service providers have to come before they are anywhere near as efficient as their private counterparts.

Over the last five years, sickness absences have cost the city council around 70 million, almost enough to wipe out the 90m funding black hole it is facing.

The council - which is in the process of issuing dismissal notices to 4,500 staff who have yet to accept new pay and conditions - has already taken some of the first painful steps down that road.

More will have to be done, including identifying and tackling the reasons behind the high sickness rate.

Garden gripes

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with so much on its plate, you might think the council had enough to do without ripping up a perfectly good garden.

No doubt it followed "proper procedure" in sending diggers into Brighton Place Dental Surgery because its owner had not complied with a planning order in time.

But most people will agree that they used a JCB to crack a nut, especially when Andrew Ditchburn had spent thousands of pounds improving the site and was willing to spend more making the council's bureacrats happy.

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