BANBRIDGE District Council had the joint third highest rate of absenteeism among staff out of all the 26 council areas analysed during 2011, a Northern Ireland Local Government Audit Report has found.
However, a council spokesperson this week defended the poor record - which averages 14 days per employee - explaining the average figure had been forcibly raised due to a number of long-term illnesses.
“These figures are slightly misleading and are not a good representation of where we stand at present,” said the spokesperson, “The situation has improved dramatically during the past year.”
Banbridge, with a workforce of 234, sits in third place on the table, alongside Magherafelt and Newtownabbey, exceeded only by Carrickfergus (16 days off per employee) and Ballymoney, where staff averaged 17 days off during the period under scrutiny - March 2010 to March 2011.
The report also reveals the local council was one of five areas to have shown an increase in the average number of days off taken by staff from the previous period audited - 2009/2010.
Council chairman, Junior McCrum, conceded there was a problem and “something needs to be done about it”.
“A lot of ‘man’ hours are being lost,” he said, “and while I appreciate there are those who are off for two-to-three weeks due to a genuine illness, and also people on unavoidable long-term sick leave, I’m sure there are others who may not necessarily need to take a ‘sick day’.
“Something needs to be done to ensure these days are kept to the absolute minimum.”
The report by the Chief Local Government Auditor was published before Christmas and highlights a number of areas of strength for individual councils, as well as flagging up zones for improvement.
In addtion to absenteeism, the report also looked at ‘Managing Resources’, ‘Good Governance’, ‘Property Asset Management’, ‘Prompt Payment’ and ‘Local Government Reform’ and found that in total, the 26 councils spent £838 million per annum, employed almost 9,900 staff and utilised assets worth more than £2 million.
The largest expenditure came from recreation and sport, followed by waste collection and disposal and tourism, culture and heritage and building control.