Staff sickness less than pre-pandemic, Calderdale Councillors told

Despite COVID-19, Calderdale Council staff have taken less sickness absence than before the pandemic, councillors have been told.

Beacon Hill, Halifax.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the council carries out its business, forcing ongoing changes through in 15 months which might otherwise have taken years, members of the council’s Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board heard.

The council’s Director of Public Services, Zohrah Zancudi, presented her report on how the pandemic affected the council organisationally.

It had been a period when many staff had to work from home.

This period had sickness ansence reduced from an average of 11.26 days per full-time employee in 2019-20 to 8.13 days during 2020-21, with notable reductions in absence related to stress, depression, anxiety, coughs and colds, said her report.

She told councillors this might be because travelling into work could be a challenge with some sicknesses but it was possible to carry of from home.

Councillors noted with this and other statistics over the last year that the picture was nuanced and some people had found working from home had impacted on their mental and health.

Some staff had to work from office space or elsewhere because of the nature of their job.

Expenses policies have been agreed, covering home working.

Ms Zancudi said IT equipment suitable for full-time home working had to be supplied.

Other stats included a 58 per cent reduction in business mileage claims – more than 670,000 miles saving £300,000 – and saving 28,000 commuter hours, which also helped the environment.

But councillors also noted that staff would be using more power and resources at home.

Coun Daniel Sutherland (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said changes helping climate change and air quality could have only been dreamed about by the council just a few years ago and he sought assurances things like reductions in staff travel could be assured and developed going ahead, acceoting sometimes face to face meetings were needed.

Energy consumption in council buildings has fallen by 22 per cent but Coun Mike Barnes (Lab, Skircoat) thought the figure seemed low – the council needed to review its energy consumption, for example leaving lights switched on where buildings were in use.

Ms Zancudi said the council was balancing workplace and home working and her report said the authority was would ultimately release three large buildings, resulting in significant revenue savings.

Other statistics showed 41,000 staff had attended Microsoft Teams meetings in the last six months which would have previously required face-to-face meetings.

In 2019 there were 7.5 million A4 sheets of paper printed by employees and though this was halved in 2020, it is still a large volume the council should reduce further.

Coun Barnes said he knew of an instance when a printer placed at the far end of a building had significantly cut staff printing out single emails and the like because they had to walk a lot further to fetch it.