THE sickness rates of council workers in Worcester have plunged 32 per cent in one year, it has emerged.

Your Worcester News can reveal how a hard-hitting crackdown on city council staff has led to a drastic turnaround.

Exactly one year ago the number of sick days taken by council employees rose 38 per cent, costing taxpayers £180,000 - a story which we ran on our front page.

New figures show how the average city council worker took 12 days off per year in 2012/13, but in 2013/14 it fell to just eight.

The city council says that following criticism last year it "focused on the issue as never before" - and launched a serious crackdown on absenteeism based around cutting sick pay to 90 per cent of someone's salary.

As well as the money being slashed, managers now step in early whenever they notice trends emerging to try and identify any problems.

Mark Edwards, human resources manager, said: "We've focused on the issue as never before and introduced a raft of changes all aimed at improvement.

"We focused on engagement, making sure all staff knew that their contribution was noticed and valued.

"We also spotted potential problems earlier and stepped in to help people.

"When anyone’s absence was getting beyond the norm we would sit down with workers to understand better what was going on, and to see if we could help in any way.

"Sometimes we would be able to offer early medical intervention such as physiotherapy, to stop a short illness becoming a long one.

"Ultimately people will always make the effort to get in and get working when they know their work matters - and makes a difference."

In the private sector the average is just under six days per year.

At the county council it is 7.7 days per employee.

The city council had set an in-house target of getting its figure down to nine days in the last financial year, but managed to beat it.

Councillor Lynn Denham, who was the cabinet member responsible for the workforce over the last year, said: "The improvements are very good - we've finished the year with a much better performance."

The city council’s crackdown on sickness rates included a series of visits from NHS nurses to undertake health checks on the workforce, in a bid to flag up any problems before they developed.

It also included a new telephone procedure so employees who ring in sick must now speak to a more senior member of the leadership team.