Councils fight to combat absence

Local authorities train in absence management in a bid to
compete with the private sector


Best Value is forcing local authorities to tackle sickness
absence as they seek to compete with the private sector. The Government’s
benchmarking system, which came into effect in April, forces councils to match
private sector alternatives in value for money.


National indicators under the system set a target of nine
days lost per employee per year – close to the private sector average.


Graham Johnson, professional development manager at
occupational health specialist MTL Medical Services, reported that 10 local
authorities have asked the firm for help. "We are being asked to provide
training courses for the managers in how to manage absence. Managers sometimes
do not understand what their role is; they think it is someone else’s job –
occupational health or personnel."


Terry Gorman, president of the local authority personnel
group Socpo, urged councils not to pursue draconian methods. He criticised the
London Borough of Wandsworth, which recently backed down on a threat to cut
back on sick pay.


"You have to start with a belief system that people do
not want to be ill."


Sickness absence is always going to be slightly higher in
local government than the private sector because of the need to protect
vulnerable clients from infections.


But he also said that unions have to accept that sickness
absence needs reducing. "All local authorities should have good
procedures; good monitoring. Many people have gone sick and no one talks to
them until they go on to half-pay," he said.

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