CITY of York Council lost 23,000 working days to staff sickness last year.

To tackle the problem, members of the council’s executive will be asked to spend £180,000 on a dedicated team to reduce absence rates by a third by April 2021.

During the past nine months the council has launched board games sessions, a table tennis club, gardening activities and mindfulness classes in a bid to reduce sick days and boost staff wellbeing.

A report prepared for the executive meeting on Thursday says these events are well attended. But it adds that the average number of sick days increased from 10.2 during 2016-17 to 11.5 last year. The average number of annual sick days in the public sector is 8.5.

The main cause of long term sick leave at the council is stress-related conditions, with muscular-skeletal problems as the second most common cause, the report reveals. The highest levels of sickness absence were found in the waste services department, the health, housing and adult social care team and the economy and place department.

The number of sick days taken by council staff has increased by more than 12 per cent since 2016 and a spokesman said the authority employs about 2,300 staff.

Staff absence is believed to be costing the council about £1 million a year according to the report. It says: “The council is committed to supporting all staff who find themselves off work due to any absence reason and consider numerous avenues to support an early return to work or to consider alternative options with individuals.”

It warns that if action is not taken, sickness rates may continue to rise and have a “direct impact on cost and frontline delivery of services".

The £180,000 would be spent on a dedicated team, provided by an external company, which will be tasked with the “ambitious target” of reducing staff absence by 37 per cent in a year. The report says the company may take on a contract stating that if it does not reduce sickness absence, the council does not have to pay.