THE council could be seen as an "appallingly bad employer" if it goes ahead with plans to drive down staff sickness, according to one councillor.

Both Labour and the Green party groups asked the local authority to look again at proposals to cut high absence rates by spending £180,000 on an external company.

A council report found that City of York Council lost 23,000 working days to staff sickness last year.

But Cllr Dave Taylor (Green, Fishergate) criticised a decision to bring in a dedicated team, provided by an external company, to drive absences down by a third.

Speaking at a meeting on Monday night, he said: "I fear an intervention of this nature could actually make things worse. This is likely to create more stress for those managers and damage relationships between managers and their staff."

He added that the targets "only increase the reputational risk of the City of York Council in being known as an appallingly bad employer."

Cllr Jonny Crawshaw (Labour, Micklegate) said high rate of staff sickness are part of a wider problem with local authority funding, which has seen fewer staff taking on more work.

He said: "Labour group absolutely supports the idea of a dedicated team to focus on staff wellbeing but the focus should be on supporting staff, not purely on bringing the absence levels down.

"We need to show the staff that we value them, that we want to invest in their long term future, long-term health and wellbeing."

However, members of the customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee said they did not want to cause delays to tackling the high absence rates. They decided the plans should not be referred back to the council executive by a majority of five votes to four. But they added an amendment, asking the executive to keep them informed of the procurement process.

A spokesman for the council said: “The proposal of dedicated specialist resource is one of numerous measures to support managers in managing attendance and maintaining the wellbeing of staff. All the measures together will support a reduction in absence, meaning that staff are healthier and engaged to remain at work.

“The detail of any new provision is still to be finalised but will involve Trade Unions and staff. We expect it to give early signposting to appropriate medical intervention and to support staff to maintain their health.”

“We have a clear commitment through our wellbeing strategy to support our staff and that is borne out in the wide range of proactive staff health and wellbeing measures we provide."

“Research shows that while we manage short-term sickness well, we need to further improve how we support staff on long-term sick leave, 80 per cent of whom have musculoskeletal and stress-related conditions.

“Knowing that sick leave among our workforce increased in 2017/18 and understanding the inevitable pressures it faces from a national 30 per cent reduction of council staff over the past three years, we know we need to be further proactive and give them additional support.

“This is why we are looking to invest £180,000 in industry expertise to quickly support staff and managers and better our practice which, in turn, will lead to improved health and wellbeing, alongside savings from reduced sickness absence. It will also mean more people will return to work quicker which will reduce pressure on their colleagues."