Council workers in Shetland take so many sick days it is costing the public purse around £3 million a year in lost hours. The problem got worse again last year when employees took the equivalent of 13 sick days each, up from 12.2 days in the previous two years.
The poor attendance record is of increasing concern to councillors faced with making swingeing cuts to public spending. Billy Fox believed the sickness rate was about three times the national average. If money could be saved by tackling the problem it could be put towards frontline services, he told the audit and standards committee today.
Theo Smith found the absence rate “rather disturbing” and suggested it was because employees were allowed to sign themselves off for up to seven days without requiring a doctor’s line.
Michael Stout said, to be blunt about it, the council had a morale problem.
The council’s performance and improvement adviser Jim McLeod said new policies and procedures were to be brought before councillors in two months as part of the ongoing attempt to clamp down on sickies. He said the group dealing with the issue was confident there would be a substantial improvement in this financial year.
Teachers had a better sickness record than other local authority employees, largely because they work fewer days in the year due to the long school holidays. They lost on average 6.7 days a year to illness, which was up on the previous year’s rate of 6.2 days.
Meanwhile the cost of collecting rubbish in Shetland has rocketed from £77.97 per household to £106.51 although the cost of disposing of it fell from £54.95 to £47.90.
Mr Fox’s concern about the statistic was shared by infrastructure services director Phil Crossland who said the cost of refuse collection was being investigated and would need to come down by 30-40 per cent.
The council’s performance indicators also show that fewer planning applications were being dealt with within a two-month period last year – down to 60.4 per cent of applications from a high of 80.6 per cent two years previously.
The local authority also became worse at paying businesses and others who supply it with goods, settling bills slower than during the previous three years with just 81.9 per cent of invoices paid within 30 days.
On the positive side, the council has been quicker in re-letting empty houses in areas where there is good demand, managing to get new tenants in within 20 days rather than the previous year’s delay of 31 days.
The cost of collecting the council tax was also cut to £12.81 per house, down from £16.21 the previous year.