40,000 sick days predicted for 'overworked' Northamptonshire county council staff

On average each employee will have two weeks off work due to being unwell.
On average each employee will have two weeks off work due to being unwell.

Northamptonshire County Council is predicting it will lose more than 40,000 working days to sickness this year, with each member of staff having an average two weeks off work due to illness.

The under-pressure authority, which is having to cut services across all its departments to make ends meet, is predicting a 34 per cent increase for the 2019/20 financial year with its 3,492 staff having on average 10.2 sick days. This compares to the average rate of 7.6 days per employee in 2018/19. Altogether the council is projecting it will lose 40,106 days this financial year.

Unions and opposition councillors say overwork, pressure and stress are behind the large number of days taken off sick by staff.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the council Chris Stanbra said: “I think the issue is that there are lots of overworked staff who are getting ill. This may be compounded by the fact they have not had a pay increase in two years.

"This is just another indication of the turmoil at the council and the effect the current working conditions are having on the staff.”

Staff were given an indication earlier this year by chief executive Theresa Grant that a pay rise could happen this financial year but the authority is now saying it cannot afford to give staff any more in their pay packets. In February the council reinstated paying a staff member's first day off sick, a benefit which had been removed five years ago.

Unison branch secretary Kev Standishday said the union regularly received phone calls from staff who are stressed and anxious and afraid to speak out.

He said: “Some staff are struggling to work in One Angel Square, especially those people with any sort of sensory issue as they really struggle to work there.

“Everybody is working extremely hard but they often can’t do the job asked within the eight hours.”

The council’s headquarters was opened two years ago, but there have been a number of issues with the open plan layout which has included making it difficult for staff who may need privacy for confidential meetings. The authority is set to spend £500,000 updating desks and IT spaces to improve conditions.

Labour county councillor Danielle Stone said council staff were not treated well enough.

She said: “I think this is heartbreaking as it is the staff who are carrying the council. They are not being looked after properly. I know a lot of the staff and I think they have been let down by a really shabby infrastructure with poor IT and poor commissioning. All the things they need to have in place to do their job are rickety. I think that is the problem.”

According to the latest corporate performance report the turnover at the council is also above the national average. It says for the past 18 months the amount of staff moving to other employers has been between 14 and 16 per cent compared to the public sector average of 12.9.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “The 10.2 average sick days per year is a predictive figure.

“The council moved to a new resource planning system in April 2018 and this changed the way that sickness was calculated.

“It is understood that there was an under-reporting of absence in the past. The way sickness has been reported since this time is a truer reflection of sickness.

“The council manages its absence robustly for service delivery and supports employees during periods where they are unwell. We regularly have wellbeing events and pro-active support and have an employee assist programme which provides 24-hour access to confidential advice.”