Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice



Publication of the Committee’s 64th Report, Session 2006-07

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“Sick leave seems to be a way of life in two large agencies of the Department for Transport, the Driving Standards Agency and the DVLA. On average, each employee is off sick for nearly three weeks each year. The fact that both agencies seem to function adequately despite this amazingly high rate of absence is matter for surprise, to say the least.

“The rate of sick leave is principally down to relatively few members of staff on long-term sickness absence. The Department for Transport has recently roused itself to review such cases and crack down where appropriate. The two agencies should follow its example immediately. The Department and its agencies must also pay special attention to the morale and motivation of their staff, especially those engaged in mundane repetitive work or in stressful front-line work with the public.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 64th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from Department for Transport (the Department) and two of its agencies, the Driving Standards Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, examined their current sickness absence levels and the actions they have in train to meet their 2010 sickness absence targets.

Staff of the Department for Transport and its seven executive agencies were absent through sickness for an average of 10.4 working days per full time equivalent employee in 2005. The cost to the taxpayer including indirect costs, was some £24 million.

In four agencies and the centre of the Department, sickness absence levels were between 5.4 and 9.1 average days lost per full time employee, which is below rates found in similar public and private sector organisations. But two agencies had significantly higher sickness rates-the Driving Standards Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency-with levels in excess of 13 days. Both Agencies are large employers, together employing over half of the staff within the Department for Transport group.

Until recently managing sickness absence has not been a priority for any of the businesses within the Department for Transport. Most agencies have made a concerted effort to tackle sickness absence only in the past 12 to 18 months. The Department expects to improve its performance in the future by more consistent implementation of existing policies to manage sickness absence. If all the businesses of the Department were to reduce their sickness levels to those achieved by organisations carrying out similar activities such as administering of paperwork, they could save £3 million each year.

The overall rate of sickness absence for an organisation is influenced by a few people on long term sickness. Around 75% of staff in the Driving Standards Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency took 10 or less days sickness absence in 2006. Mental health and stress issues are the main cause of sickness absence and are a particular cause of long term absence. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has found that the most common reasons for stress-related absence are non-work related issues.

The Agencies need a better understanding of why some staff take so much sick absence so that measures can be implemented to improve attendance. There appears to be a correlation between high levels of sickness absence and relatively low paid, repetitive, administrative jobs. The recent Capability Review highlighted a number of concerns about leadership within the Department. Measures have been taken to strengthen management capability, which is particularly important in areas where staff are engaged in repetitive administrative tasks.