£10m council bill for absence

Elizabeth Riches
Elizabeth Riches

LABOUR’s finance chief has called on the local authority to address high levels of sickness absence after claiming it cost Fife Council £10m last year.

Councillor Mark Hood, who represents Lochgelly and Cardenden, has accused the SNP Lib Dem coalition of a “lack of leadership” in tackling the problem.

His comments came after he obtained figures from the council’s finance department which showed that sick pay within the local authority had cost it £10 million over 36 weeks between April and December 2011.

Councillor Hood said: “While I am supportive of people being paid when unable to work through sickness, the issue here is the level of sickness and what that is costing, which is taking money and staff away from front-line services.

“I am now calling for more detailed analysis of the frequency and nature of the absences so we can understand what needs to be done.”

Mr Hood also said the true cost of sickness is much higher as the figures he has obtained relate only to the wages of staff who are off sick.

He said the cost of replacement staff to continue with services and the loss of productivity would cost the council further millions.

He added: “The figures show there is a much deeper problem at Fife Council, one which the political leadership must understand better and get a grip on.”

Councillor Elizabeth Riches, depute leader of the administration and HR spokesman, said the strategies used to tackle sickness absence are reported to the policy, finance and asset management committee in an annual report.

She said despite being given an opportunity to discuss these in depth, it had never been taken up by Labour’s committee members.

Councillor Riches continued: “The main causes of absence are musculoskeletal reasons and mental health which follows the pattern in other councils.

‘‘The number of working days lost due to stress has not changed significantly and is still mainly due to personal stress, not work related reasons, even though there may be pockets of stress when changes are made.

‘‘We know we have to do much more to improve our record and that is why we will continue to have open and frank discussions with trade unions as to the best way to bring about major improvements.

“The cost of absence in terms of sick pay is as per the national terms and conditions.

‘‘COSLA is aware of the issue of absence and is currently undertaking a survey to develop more effective strategies including sick pay itself.”

Councillor Riches added: “There is a very strong commitment to managing the costs of absence through effective actions whilst balancing this alongside the need to be supportive of those employees who are ill.”