Borders taxpayers feeling financial pain of council workers on the sick

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Nine days off sick each year for every employee over the last four years, at a total cost to the taxpayer of more than £15million.

That is the staggering statistic concerning absences among Scottish Borders Council workers and one which will be examined today by the local authority’s own scrutiny watchdog.

During the four-year period under the spotlight, a total of 194,170 working days have been lost to sickness among council staff.

And concerns have been expressed that a large proportion could be stress-related and due to staff changes and departmental re-organisations.

No breakdown of figures have yet been released concerning reasons for the absences, but it is vital that councillors get to the bottom of this matter.

Yes, it must be kept in perspective that the council has 5,500 employees, but how many local private sector businesses have sickness records as high as this? Very few, we would imagine.

Of course, there will be SBC workers who have not been off work sick at all during that period, with some having many more than nine days.

But whatever is going on, it needs to be investigated to see if staff changes or departmental restructuring are contributory factors to people not being at their desks and providing a full service to Borders residents.

There may well be perfectly valid reasons for each and everyone of these sick days, but if so, then it must be shown to be so to a Borders electorate, itself struggling to cope with the ongoing financial crisis, and which deserves to know how its money is being spent.

Of course, there has to be an element of privacy surrounding confidential personal details, but the bottom line remains that organisations such as the council, together with the likes of NHS Borders, are public bodies, funded by public money, and nothing must override the public’s right to know.