Staff sickness levels at Birmingham City Council’s Adults and Communities Department are, by any measure of thumb, appalling. Ten per cent of social services staff are off work at any given time, most for more than four weeks.

It is all too easy to become blasé about statistics, but give a little thought to figures released by the city council yesterday and it is possible to understand the mountain that senior management must climb. Workers take an average 15.6 days a year off sick – three weeks on top of the five weeks’ annual leave, bank holidays and other additional holidays agreed by local government employers and the unions. No wonder the city council has to employ so many people – there must be almost as many empty desks as those that are occupied.

Delve more deeply into the figures, and some alarming trends emerge. Stress, anxiety and depression, notoriously difficult to prove, are given as the most popular reasons for failing to turn up to work. But attendance panels are far from convinced about this, with almost one third of staff whose cases are investigated being sacked for malingering.

It seems fairly obvious that there is some deep-seated problem gnawing away at social services departments across the country. Absenteeism in Birmingham, amazingly, is by no means the highest among major English cities, although there are few signs that 10 years of attempts by the city council to reduce sickness levels is having any discernible impact where it matters – at the sharp end of service delivery.

It is some time now since we heard anything about Team Birmingham, the concept of council staff going that extra mile for the common good. There would appear to be little team spirit in the social services department.