Revised policy to tackle ‘highest’ staff absence level

The Braid Ballymena.

Mid and East Antrim Council says it is committed to further improving attendance after a new report found it has the highest absence level in Northern Ireland.

The Local Government Auditor publication showed councils’ spending on agency staff in the province increased by almost a fifth last year. It rose by £3.9 million (19%) to £24.2 million in 2016/17.

Causeway Coast and Glens, Belfast City and Mid and East Antrim incurred more than half the rise, according to Local Government Auditor Pamela McCreedy.

She said: “While I recognise that the use of agency staff may be necessary, particularly during a period of significant organisational change, their employment should deliver value for money.

“I intend to keep the cost of agency staffing under review and, if I consider it appropriate, may examine expenditure in this area in greater detail in future audit work.”

Average sickness absence rate for the 11 councils increased by almost 7.3% to 15 days in 2016-17, up from nearly 14 days in 2015/16.

Belfast City Council recorded the lowest number of days lost at 12 per employee while Mid & East Antrim Borough Council recorded the highest at 18.

Increases in absenteeism were attributed to a rise in long-term sickness absence because of conditions like severe depression and stress.

An MEA Council spokesman said: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is a priority for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council - as is delivering an efficient, high-performing council for our ratepayers, with council committed to ensuring value for money.

“The most recent figures show that over the past year council’s absenteeism figures, while still representing a significant challenge for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, improved by an average of more than one day per employee - and we are confident that by working closely with our employees and unions this will reduce further.”

Noting council is finalising a revised attendance policy, he added: “We are fully committed to further improving attendance within Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, for the betterment of our staff and ratepayers.”

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