New figures identifying a sharp jump in the number of local government workers off sick with mental health problems are certainly reflected in Birmingham, where depression, stress and tiredness are the main drivers behind a ludicrous absenteeism rate.
Thanks to a concerted effort over the past five years, the city council has managed to get its sickness rate down to an average of just over nine days a year per person which, while very high for a private sector firm, is not unusual for local authorities. Some council departments, adults and communities in particular, continue to record eye-watering absenteeism rates of up to 16 days a year for social services staff for example.
The cost of this purely in financial terms is enormous. If front-line council staff are away from work for an average three weeks a year sick, plus five weeks annual leave, plus public holidays, plus additional rest days negotiated by the trade unions, it is reasonable to assume that some employees are actually only at work for nine months of the year – leaving their employer to pay for expensive replacement agency staff.
In Birmingham, the city council’s business transformation project, which is in effect about getting more work out of staff by doing away with old fashioned demarcation agreements, is said by union leaders to be placing huge amounts of additional stress on their members. It is quite likely, therefore, that absenteeism will begin to creep up again.
But this will be as nothing to the howls that will come when a future government is forced to scrap gold-plated council pension arrangements – now, that will be stressful.