SOUTHAMPTON City Council’s employees calling in sick remain an “ongoing concern”, a report has revealed.

Figures referring to the start of this year revealed that in some departments the sickness absence days per employee was almost double than the sector average of 8.5 days.

According to a new report, between January and March 2019 the overall sickness levels for the authority showed an average of 12.49 days per employee with short term absence accounting for 92% of the overall absence occurrences.

The data also revealed that in the first three months of this year the council had four dismissals for sickness absence.

The figures are higher than those referring to the period of time between October and December 2018, when the overall sickness levels for the council showed an average of 11.87 days per employee.

The news comes after in April the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that staff calling in sick are costing Southampton City Council (SCC) an average of £280,000 a month, more than £3million a year.

At a meeting of the Governance Committee held on Monday, council officers reassured councillors saying the latest figures are retrospective and there have been improvements more recently.

But watchdogs said the figures should cause real concern for Southampton ratepayers. After the meeting, opposition councillor Ivan White said the figures are dreadful. “It takes money away from other services. Why are other authorities better than we are? It’s a too easy excuse to blame austerity all the time,”he added.

Among the areas that have seen sickness absence days per employees higher than the average of 8.5 days there are the departments of Adults, Housing and Communities (12.49 days); Children and Families (15.47 days); Digital and Business Operations(12.33 days) and Transactions and Universal Services (15.69 days).

Duncan Simpson, research director at Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “These figures should cause real concern for Southampton ratepayers. The council should make it crystal clear to their staff that not turning up for work without a proper reason is unacceptable and that they’re taking the people who pay their wages for a ride.”

Officers told the committee they are seeing some reductions in areas such as Transactions and Universal Services and said they are ought to expect some improvements in the future.

They reassured the committee saying that HR advisors are working with managers to solve the issue. Workshops for managers to ensure they fulfil their role in absence management and conduct robust return to work meetings are also being carried out.

Cllr Eamonn Keogh, chairman of the Governance Committee, asked for an action plan to be presented at the committee’s next meeting.

He said employees calling in sick represent an issue and added: “That is why it is important that we are reviewing on a regular basis. We will continue to review until such time where the level of sickness is in line with what you would expect.”

He blamed government cuts and recruitment challenges for the absences. In April council leader Christopher Hammond said the authority has reduced the number of days lost by 2269 and said the council has to go further.