NEW figures show there has been a slight rise in the number of sick days by council employees - but staff have still been praised by senior officers.
In the first nine months of the financial year the average number of sick days is 7.51 days per full-time employee at Hartlepool Borough Council, against the target of 7.50 days.
It is still a sharp reduction from 2006-07 when the figure was more than 13 days per worker, but the slight rise has been put down to winter flu and colds.
Senior officers say the figures are still good, especially given the pressure local authority staff are under as a result of ongoing budget cuts.
The council has just made cuts of £4m, with 60 council jobs axed through voluntary and compulsory redundancies.
If the number of sick days continues to fall it is the seventh successive year it has fallen and the latest figures were discussed at a recent meeting of the council’s finance and policy committee.
Council officials say the extent to which staff are absent from work due to illness has a direct impact on the quality, level and cost of services.
A report by Andrew Atkin, the council’s assistant chief executive, said: “The target figure for 2013-14 for the council is 7.50 days absence per whole time equivalent employee. “The actual sickness rate at the end of the third quarter shows the council’s at 7.51 days per wte per employee.”
Mr Atkin added: “The overall figures currently demonstrate a year-on-year improvement for the council.
“The council will continue to focus on sickness absence management to try and ensure it achieves its 7.50 wte average sickness per employee target at the end of the reporting year.”
Staff were praised by the local authority chief executive at the meeting.
Dave Stubbs, the chief executive, said: “This time of year we can expect sickness levels to rise. There has been a very slight rise and it comes at a time when there has never been so much pressure put on local authority staff, as there is at the moment.”
Labour councillor Peter Jackson said: “The figures are excellent compared to a few years ago.
“It is also important that we do provide support for the long-term sick, it is important that we help those people.”
Senior management team regularly review long-term sickness and how staff can be further supported to come back.
Mr Atkin added: “Long term sickness absence continues to account for the majority of the council’s sickness absence.
“The council is focusing resources to support managers on the long term cases through individual case management and early intervention to support employees to return to work as quickly as possible.”