Council staff sickness levels at 10-year high

Staff sickness at Southend City Council is at a ten-year high, with union bosses claiming workers are burned out due to increasing workloads.

Daniel Cowan, Labour councillor for St Laurence Ward, raised the issue of sickness at a policy and resources committee meeting after learning from a finance report it was at its highest in a decade, with 1,351 working days lost in July.

The average council employee has had 8.37 sick days this year – compared to a target of seven.

Unison said it believed the high rates of sickness were down to heavy workloads.

It comes as Southend Council shelled out £4.7 million on agency staff between January and June this year, with bosses claiming it was standard practice.

Sam Leigh, Unison Eastern head of local government, said: “It’s no great surprise that increasing numbers of staff are burning out and going off sick – they’re struggling to cope with rising workloads and sparser resources.

“This only gets worse when the already stretched remaining staff are left to pick up their ill colleagues’ work.

“Local councils have gone through a decade of shrinking funds from central government that inevitably lead to the loss of staff and services.”

During last week’s meeting, Cllr Cowan asked Stephen Meah-Sims, executive director transformation, about the causes of the high levels of sick leave and what more could be done to prevent it.

Cllr Cowan said the report showed the high rate of sickness was “exacerbating the need for agency staff”, which was having an impact on a predicted £14 million budget deficit.

He added: “If we could wave a magic wand and not have agency staff that would pretty much plug more than half of the budget gap that’s been predicted.”

In response, Mr Meah-Sims said: “In terms of wellbeing we have facilities the council provides to staff and councillors which is a wellbeing service and it provides a whole range of services connected to a whole range of health queries, mental health support wellbeing and advice, so we do have those facilities.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter