Council sick pay bill hits £3.7M

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Staff absenteeism cost Scottish Borders Council more than £3.7million in occupational and statutory sick pay in the year ending March 31.

That was out of a total annual wage bill for the local authority’s 6,131 workforce of £121.7million and, according to council leader David Parker, attendance levels are improving.

“Work has been ongoing to support managers in effectively managing attendance and last year’s figures [2014/15] are expected to show the council has achieved the target to reduce sickness absence to 4%,” said Mr Parker at last week’s council meeting.

“Human resources [HR] will continue to work closely with managers to improve attendance levels and over the next 12 months staff will work with those sections which have higher absence levels to roll out further training to support managers in managing attendance.”

In the absence of Councillor Michael Cook, executive member for HR, Mr Parker was responding to a question about the cost of absenteeism from opposition backbencher Councillor Simon Mountford, who also wanted to know how SBC compared to Scotland’s other local authorities.

Mr Parker said he would supply that comparison after the meeting, but The Southern has learned that the HR department is still processing the data for 2014/15 and this will take about three weeks to complete.

The comparative figures for all Scottish councils will be published by the Holyrood Government’s Improvement Agency this autumn.

The most recently published data for 2013/14 shows that each SBC employee had an average of 9.88 days off through sickness, ranking the council 23rd out of the 32 Scottish local authorities.

That is an improvement on the 10.55 days of sickness absence recorded in 2012/13 when the ranking fell to 25th, but it is still higher than the Scottish average of 9.24 days per worker.

On other staffing matters, Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the Conservative opposition group, noted that in April Mr Cook had revealed the council had not lost a single employment tribunal case in the last two years. She wanted to know how many cases had been settled prior to a tribunal hearing becoming necessary.

Mr Parker said eight claims – all relating to equal pay – had been settled in favour of employees over that period.