Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 16:18 UK

Council staff take more sick days

Woman using computer
Some council workers take more sick days than private sector workers

Public sector workers at some councils in Devon take up to twice as many sick days as those in the private sector.

Figures obtained by BBC Southwest in a Freedom of Information Act request showed staff sickness costs councils up to £500,000 annually.

East Devon Council had the highest sickness rates in the county with staff taking on average 12.82 days leave.

The private sector national average according to the Chartered Institute of Personal Development is 6.4 days.

The number of days taken on sick leave by those in the public sector was on average 9.75 days.

David Shephard, the Devon policy chairman from the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "If small businesses faced similar levels of sick days many could not trade or cope financially.

"It's a culture which cannot be tolerated. We're all under pressure and recessionary times are difficult and if councils are seeking increases in council tax and spending it on sick days, it's going to be hard to win over the population."

The average cost of absence is estimated to be £692 per employee each year.

Number of sick days and cost to the taxpayer
East Devon District - 12.82, £527,000
Mid Devon District - 10.2, £271,355
North Devon District - 9.75, £101,000
Exeter City - 9.15, £551,105
South Hams - 9.3, cost n/a
Torbay Council - 8.85, cost n/a
Devon County - 8.64, cost n/a
Torridge District - 8, £300,000
Plymouth City - 7.06, cost n/a
Teignbridge District - 6.33, £582,000
West Devon Borough - 6.25, £75,000

All the councils contacted said that they were taking measures to improve the sickness levels by promoting healthier lifestyles and providing greater access to counsellors. They were all given the opportunity to comment on the information.

A statement released by East Devon District Council said: "Out of 467 employees, 204 took no sick leave during this year 2008/2009.

"The high absences were created by an increase in medium and long-term absence.

"We have rewritten the council's absence policy and doubled our training efforts to ensure managers are managing absences appropriately."

Brian Williams, the Unison representative at Mid Devon District Council, said: "Public sector employees carry out some very stressful and dangerous jobs and that's going to be reflected in the level of sickness."

The figures released included long-term sickness, recovery from hospital operations and stress.

The FOI also revealed that the South Western Ambulance service NHS Trust spends an estimated £3m each year to cover sickness with 44,000 days taken off by 2500 members of staff in 2008/2009.

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