Average of three weeks a year lost via sick leave

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Sickness absence at Derry City & Strabane District Council has reduced, bucking a trend where stress and depression have forced more and more workers off on long-term leave in the North.

But 15 days on average, or three working weeks, are still being lost per employee at DC&SDC according to a new audit report published this morning.

Local Government Auditor, Pamela McCreedy, reports that DC&SDC was one of only three councils that made any progress on absenteeism between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

Three years ago the local authority posted one of the worst sickness rates in the North with an average of 17 days lost per year per employee. But according to Ms. McCreedy’s new audit that reduced to roughly 15 days on average per employee by 2016/17, which was bang on the NI average.

Ms. McCreedy’s data show that long term absence was to blame for high rates across the board and that 13 of DC&SDC’s 15 lost days were down to long-term absenteeism with just two down to short-term absenteeism.

But despite the three week average, DC&SDC was one of the only council’s in the North to move in the right direction alongside Ards and North Down, and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon.

Giving a picture of the general trend, Ms. McCreedy reports: “The average sickness absence rate for the 11 councils increased by almost 7.3 per cent to 14.95 days in 2016/17 up from 13.93 days in 2015/16.

“Sickness absence varied significantly between councils. Belfast City Council recorded the lowest number of days lost at 12.4 days per employee (10.3 days in 2015/16) while Mid and East Antrim Borough Council recorded the highest at 18.3 days per employee (15.2 days in 2015/16).

“Increases in absenteeism were attributed to a rise in long-term sickness absence because of conditions such as severe depression, musculoskeletal problems and stress.”

The Local Government Auditor said it was important to constantly monitor sickness absence levels out of a duty of care to both workers and the general public.

“Sickness absence must be monitored closely and actively managed to ensure that staff welfare is protected and that the delivery of front-line services to the public is not adversely affected,” she said.

Elsewhere, the audit report found that in 2016/17 DC&SDC spent £451 per citizen, which was a pound more than the average across the North.

By contrast, Belfast City council spent £654 per person and Ards and North Down £360 per person over the course of the same year.

DC&SDC posted one of the lowest levels of expenditure on agency staff of any council in the North.

This fell below the £1m mark recorded in 2015/16 and represented a tiny fraction of the approximate £30m that was spent paying staff in 2016/17.

The audit also shows how the Council managed to increase its General Reserve Fund by 10.4 per cent from £4.3m to £4.7m over the two years and that it reduced its debt marginally by 1 per cent from £52.3m to £52m.