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Norfolk police take more sick leave

PUBLISHED: 10:37 09 June 2008 | UPDATED: 11:11 03 July 2010

Sickness is costing Norfolk police £3.1m a year, with the average officer taking 84.5 hours' sick leave, it has emerged.

A report to the county's police authority warns absence levels are higher than neighbouring forces and the national average of 70 hours, meaning "major savings" could be made.

Sickness is costing Norfolk police £3.1m a year, with the average officer taking 84.5 hours' sick leave, it has emerged.

A report to the county's police authority warns absence levels are higher than neighbouring forces and the national average of 70 hours, meaning “major savings” could be made.

Senior officers are still waiting to hear whether they will be forced to trim £390,000 from their £138m budget or be capped by the government, after increasing Norfolk police's share of the council tax by 5.3pc.

Up to 49 civilian jobs are already on the line as bosses look to restructure the force's business support unit to cut costs.

“Salary costs associated with sickness absence are estimated at £3.1m, which is a significant figure and points directly to the effective management and reduction of sickness absence as a means of achieving major savings for the force,” a report to the police authority says.

“It was noted that a 10pc reduction in sickness could potentially produce a full year's saving of £310,000 through salary costs alone, with further cost savings through the reduction of temporary staff and overtime and an increase of officers returned to the front line.”

Harry Humphrey, chairman of Norfolk Police Authority's scrutiny and audit committee, said: “It's something we need to address, it's not good enough.

“The £3m is not so much cost as lost opportunity. There are some costs because if an officer who is off has to be replaced, there's an overtime cost.”

Dave Benfield, general secretary of the Norfolk Police Federation, said he would like to see more research into the causes of the sickness.

He said the force was also going through a significant change locally which may be adding to the pressures of the job, but he also queried whether a cut would yield significant savings as officers would still need paying.

“We are an organisation with 1,600 police officers and there will be sickness,” he said. “But we need to recognise the pressures that are being brought down from the very top - from government and their 'target culture'.

“Nobody wants to be sick and it doesn't do anybody any good. Norfolk reflects the national position, although I accept the figures are a little higher. I just wonder if they are a little bit higher because of the extra pressure compounded by the changes taking place at the moment at a rate of knots.”

The police authority report said the attendance of officers and civilian staff - whose sickness levels averaged 64 hours - would be monitored by an attendance management team, which would produce a monthly report.

Absence levels had been falling within the force until last year, when the number of officers calling in sick began to increase.

At a meeting last month, Neville Hounsome, the force's assistant chief officer (people), said a review of shift patterns could help improve attendance.

The police authority report adds: “It was hoped that the completion of the force restructuring would see an end to the uncertainty and low morale experienced by some members of the constabulary.”

Instead of the current system of 12- hour shifts, worked four days on and four days off, officers will work to more flexible arrangements, with shifts averaging eight hours.

Mr Humphrey said: “Police officers will work when they are needed and the flexibility will help us make more of police officers' hours.”

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