Staff sickness costs Northumberland County Council £4million, new figures reveal

Northumberland County Council's HQ in Morpeth.
Northumberland County Council's HQ in Morpeth.

Staff off sick at Northumberland County Council cost taxpayers more than £4million last year, figures have revealed.

And the average number of lost days per full-time employee is 11.36, against an estimated average of 8.8 a year nationally.

The annual update on the authority’s workforce for 2018-19 found the lost days figure is much higher than the workforce committee’s target of 7.5 days, but that plenty of work is now taking place to tackle it.

The council’s health and wellbeing policy, introduced in October, sees advisers work with managers to ensure all cases of sickness absence follow the processes, while pilot groups are starting to support employees with ongoing mental-health issues.

Presenting the update at a meeting on June 10 of the corporate services committee, Kelly Angus, the council’s executive director of HR, said that while the figures for absences had only been recorded as rigorously since she started two years ago.

“I would like to think that in the last five years, staff absence has come down, because there’s much more scrutiny,” she said.

“We do have an ageing workforce so we do have some unprecedented cases to deal with.”

She said staff absence can also have an impact on the use of agency workers and overtime, which is another area of focus for the council’s HR team, with the total overtime costs for 2018-19 exceeding £7.5million.

Work is taking place on creating an internal staff bank which will offer employees the opportunity to register for work at any department/area within the council (dependent upon their skills and experience) and ‘this will ensure we have a more flexible workforce and reduce existing costs’.

The report also highlighted some positives.

As at the end of March, the council employs 4,307 staff, an increase of 82 on the previous year, and the turnover rate of employees in 2018-19 was 11.82 per cent, lower than the Local Government Association’s reported national average of 13.4%.

Following a successful drive, 3.7 per cent of the authority’s entire workforce are now apprentices, with apprenticeships up by 40 per cent from 2017-18.

“We have spent our apprenticeship levy and we would be keen to spend more if it was available,” Ms Angus said.