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Staff sickness absence in the Department for Transport and its agencies averaged 10.4 days in 2005, costing the taxpayer around £24 million a year, according to a new NAO report published today. Performance varies across the Department, and some parts such as the central department, the Highways Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency compare favourably with similar organisations in both the private and public sectors.

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However, in 2005 the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and Driving Standards Agency (DSA) had rates of 14 and 13.1 days respectively and of 13.1 and 13.7 days in 2006. These high rates are likely to be partly due to the large proportion of administrative staff at DVLA and high numbers of work-related injuries at DSA, but sickness absence is still higher than in other similar organisations (estimated at 10 days by the NAO). Despite this, DVLA and DSA are performing well: the DVLA achieved almost all of its overall performance targets in 2005-06.

Most agencies have in place initiatives to manage and reduce sickness absence, but today’s report sets out further steps necessary for the Department to meet its target of 7.5 days sick leave per employee by 2010. Although four agencies recorded a better average sickness absence performance in 2006 than in 2002, in the whole Department for Transport only the Highways Agency achieved its sickness absence targets in 2006 and most agencies remain some way short of their 2010 objective.

“Today’s report paints a mixed picture of sickness absence in the Department for Transport and its agencies. While some parts of the Department compare favourably against other public and private sector organisations and all parts of the Department appear to be proactive in managing sickness absence, the high rates in the customer-facing agencies of DVLA and DSA are worrying.

“The central department appears to have a good record of sickness absence but that does not absolve it from the responsibility to hold those agencies with high levels of sickness absence to account.”

The report makes recommendations on how the Department should better manage sickness absence. These include making line managers more aware of responsibilities when it comes to sick leave, making earlier use of occupational health services and ensuring better quality standards for recording sickness absence. Specific recommendations to agencies include the DVLA bringing long term sickness absence to a swifter resolution.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO


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