Sick absences at Hull City Council cost £4.8m

In 2011, the leader of Hull City Council, Cllr Steve Brady, said sick absences at the council must be reduced. A year ago I wrote that the average number of sick absences per staff member (excluding teachers) was 13.1 days. One year on it has been revealed sick absences remain at 13 days per staff member. Nothing has changed. In a cabinet meeting, the portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and communities, Cllr John Hewitt, had this to say:

The amount of money we are spending on sickness absence does worry me because having £4m in our coffers to spend on something else would be absolutely tremendous. The fact is, we have got agency workers on overtime covering for absent staff, which only makes it worse. I know some of our staff feel people are taking the proverbial by going on sick for the slightest excuse. I really believe we should be tackling this issue once and for all to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Fine words, and nothing you can disagree with, but isn't that more or less exactly what was said this time last year, and the year before? Cllr Brady said a year and a half ago he was going to negotiate with the unions over changes to staff terms and conditions. He wants to reduce staff mileage rates from 65p per mile to 45p. Again fine words and nothing I disagree with, but what's happened since? Negotiations are ongoing and we are still waiting for an announcement. In the meantime taxpayers have to pick up the bill for this expensive inertia.

If this was a private business, measures would have been taken to reduce costs. Those members of staff who are regularly taking sick leave would be monitored more closely. Cllr Brady said last year, "I have worked in the private sector and there is a different attitude to getting people back to work after being off sick." He went on to say, "I'm not saying rush everyone back but something is not right when the sickness rates are still way above what they are in the private sector. There shouldn't be a difference at all."

Indeed there shouldn't be, and now Brendan Arnold, director of resources, said the council was reviewing its sick absence policies. I wonder how long we have to wait for that review to be completed?

I am sure some readers will remember the story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Rather sums it up, I think!

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