CONCERNS have been raised after levels of staff absence at East Renfrewshire Council increased last year.

Figures show there were an average of 10 sick days per employee from April 2018 to March 2019 – a rise from eight-and-a-half days in the same period the year before.

Councillor Jim Swift asked what could be done to aid this “open wound” at a full council meeting held last Wednesday.

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“I note that absence has increased again,” he said. “We have a prevalence of high absence.

“We’d had it for year after year after year. At one point, I think we were the council in the United Kingdom with the highest sickness absence level, which is quite some going.

“We managed to get it down a little bit recently and there was much rejoicing in the chamber. It’s now gone straight back up again.

“I’m curious as to how we help resolve this long-running issue, which seems like an open wound to be prevalent in our papers year after year.”

The rise came after three years of decline, with the 2018/19 figure the highest since 2014/15, when absence days per employee hit 11.

An end-of-year report, sent to councillors, states: “Increase in absence can be attributed to both long and short term with increases in cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, mental health issues, cardio problems and stress (non-work related).

“This correlates with the increase in absence for these reasons across the council.”

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Caroline Innes, the council’s deputy chief executive and director of corporate and community services, admitted it was an issue but said it was one faced by all councils.

“You are right,” she added. “We are seeing an increase in our sickness absence levels. We are keeping a close eye on that. We are gathering the data to be able to target any hotspots there are.

“We know we have an ageing workforce, so we are monitoring all departments closely.

“It is actually a wider issue for all councils that are reporting increases in staff sickness levels.”

Ms Innes said that, in the latest benchmarking data, the council “ranked third for teachers and ninth for local government workers in Scotland for absence levels.”