Council workers’ sickness and absence blamed for £1.6m overspend

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council

Employees of Islington Council’s street environmental services ‘not coming to work’ have been blamed for a £1.6m overspend in the authority’s budget.

Addressing the 4 September meeting of the policy and performance scrutiny committee, Cllr Andy Hull (Lab, Highbury West), executive member for finance, performance and community safety, urged councillors to keep up the pressure on the department to explain the problem.

Cllr Hull said: “We’ve got loads of sickness or absences in staff that are unsustainable.

“There is no doubt that we have been having to rely on agency staff for street and environment services, and that’s simply because our staff have not been coming to work.

“This is a historic problem – it is not the first time there have been overspends in this area.

“One reason we’re having to get agency workers into these services is we have found our staff to have been using drugs and alcohol.

“Through drugs testing, we have been finding that not all of our street environment service workers are coming in sober.

“If we can support people to get past their addictions then great, but they can’t come to work drunk. That’s when you’ve got to get agency staff in.

“This department do their work whilst the rest of us are tucked up warm in bed. If that means a microculture has developed within the council, it needs to be looked at.

“This is the only thing in this budget that means it’s not perfectly balanced.

“An HR specialist has been brought in to examine if there are ways the department is working which are contributing to people not turning up to work.”

“Councillors should not take the heat off this. There’s a real issue here so you need to help us fix this.”

Islington Council’s net budget overspend in April 2018 is recorded as £1,314,000.

Councillors on the committee suggested that the problem could lie with management. Cllr Troy Gallagher (Lab, Bunhill) noted it could be a case of ‘management not managing.’

Cllr Osh Gantly (Lab, Highbury East) said: “High rates of sickness and absence are often a sign of fairly relaxed management.

“It doesn’t matter what your sickness policy is if it’s not being enforced and management are turning a blind eye.”