Absenteeism in Northern Ireland Councils 2007-08

09 January 2009

Absenteeism in Northern Ireland Councils 2007-08

The Chief Local Government Auditor, Mr John Buchanan, today published his 2007-08 report on absenteeism in Northern Ireland councils.The report examines the relative position of absenteeism within Northern Ireland councils and considers absenteeism for the sector as a whole when compared with other employment sectors.

Background

In 2007-08, Northern Ireland councils employed over 9,500 staff at a cost of £267 million. Staff costs account for more than 40 per cent of councils’ expenditure. All councils have the same legislative powers, although each council has discretion to place a different emphasis on the services delivered:

  • The provision and management of recreational,social, community and cultural facilities;
  • Environmental health and the enforcement of building regulations;
  • Refuse collection and disposal;
  • Street cleansing;
  • Provision and management of tourist development facilities; and
  • Other services

The comparative analysis between councils is threeyearly based with an average annual absenteeism rate derived for the period. This counters the impact of annual fluctuations in absenteeism which could distort our findings, particularly within the smaller Northern Ireland councils.When considering Northern Ireland councils as a whole, analysis reflects the annual position. The larger scale involved means that the resulting absenteeism data is much less susceptible to year-on-year fluctuations.

Main findings and Recommendations

  • Northern Ireland councils as a whole lost almost 131,000 days to absenteeism in 2007-08 at a cost of £16.4 million.
  • The resultant average absenteeism rate of 13.70 days for each full time equivalent employee has decreased marginally from 2006-07 (13.82 days) but remains lower than the rates recorded for the years 2002-03 to 2004-05.
  • The marginally lower level of absenteeism in Northern Ireland councils, combined with a seven per cent increase in staff costs, to produce a rise in lost productivity due to absence of £0.9 million, from £15.5 million in 2006-07.
  • Across Northern Ireland councils 37 per cent of full time equivalent employees (over 3,500) had no absence during 2007-08.
  • Magherafelt District Council had the lowest average annual absenteeism rate of 8.19 days for the 2005-08 period. Had all councils matched the lowest average annual absenteeism rate, a total of £6.2 million a year could have been gained in productivity.
  • Average annual absenteeism rates for five councils were more than double the rate recorded in Magherafelt District Council for the 2005-08 period.These were Larne Borough Council (19.54 days), Carrickfergus Borough Council (18.99 days), Derry City Council (17.89 days), Moyle District Council (16.85 days) and Craigavon Borough Council (16.71 days).
  • Ballymena Borough Council had the largest increase in average annual absenteeism rate. The rate of 12.87 days recorded for the 2005-08 period is 4.36 days more than the 2002-05 rate of 8.51 days (the lowest rate recorded by a council in 2002-05). This represents an average annual productivity loss of £145,000 for the Council.
  • Of the 19 councils showing an improvement over the two periods, Newry and Mourne District Council improved the most with a significant reduction in its absenteeism rate of 6.47 days from 21.43 days in 2002-05 to 14.96 days in 2005-08.This represents an average annual productivity gain of £305,000 for the Council.
  • The reduction by Belfast City Council in its absenteeism rate of 1.41 days between 2002-05 and 2005-08 has led to an average annual productivity gain of £405,000.
  • A comparison of the councils’ 2007-08 absenteeism rate with some other employment sectors shows that Northern Ireland councils as a sector continues to have a high absenteeism rate. Although the absenteeism rate for Northern Ireland councils is lower than the Northern Ireland Housing Executive rate it is higher than both the Northern Ireland Civil Service rate and the Northern Ireland Health Service rate.
  • Stress, depression,mental health and fatigue remain the largest cause of absenteeism, responsible for almost one quarter of days lost in 2007-08.
  • Lost productivity due to stressrelated absence cost Northern Ireland councils £3.9 million in 2007-08. The proportion of absenteeism resulting from stress-related absence varies considerably within councils from 40 per cent (Ballymoney Borough Council) to 11 per cent (Armagh City and District Council and North Down Borough Council) for the 2005-08 period.
  • Variations in absenteeism rates between councils, and the proportion of this attributable to stress-related absence, appear to have no discernable pattern.One factor which does vary between councils is the management of absenteeism. We recommend that councils with high and rising absenteeism rates should review their own management practices and benchmark these against those councils with low and falling absenteeism rates.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Chief Local Government Auditor is the Head of the Local Government Audit division within NIAO. The Chief Local Government Auditor has statutory authority to undertake comparative and other studies designed to enable him to make recommendations for improving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of services by local government bodies and to publish the results and recommendations. The Department of the Environment has,with the consent of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland, designated a member of NIAO staff as Chief Local Government Auditor and other members of NIAO staff as Local Government Auditors.
  2. The Chief Local Government Auditor’s report on Absenteeism in Northern Ireland Councils 2007-08 is available from The Stationery Office (TSO) throughout the United Kingdom. It is also available on the NIAO website at www.niauditoffice.gov.uk. The report is embargoed until 00.01 hrs on 9th January 2009.
  3. Commentary on each council’s three-year average annual absenteeism rate is at Appendix 3 of the report.
  4. Background briefing can be obtained from NIAO by contacting Denver Lynn (028 9025 1063).