Sick leave at Northern Ireland councils is at its highest level since 1990, with nearly 15 days lost per employee a year, auditors have warned.
The report, by the Northern Ireland Audit Office, found on average 14.89 days were lost to sickness absence per staff member in 2017/18.
It said that increases in absenteeism were a result of long-term conditions such as severe depression, musculoskeletal problems and stress.
Local government auditor, Pamela McCreedy, said: ‘The monitoring and management of sickness absence levels continues to very challenging for councils. Staff welfare must be protected, along with the efficient and effective delivery of front-line services to the public.
‘With no indication of overall improvement, I have decided that councils could benefit from a more detailed report in this area and I will work with the comptroller and auditor general of the NI Audit Office to commence a study in this area this year.’
The report also found that ‘heavy’ reliance on agency workers meant councils spent £1.7m more on temporary staff compared to the previous year.
Despite the challenges around absenteeism and reliance on agency staff, the report did conclude that local councils in Northern Ireland are in a financially strong position.
Mrs McCreedy said: ‘Overall councils are in a financially strong position and managed their finances well in 2017-18. Reserves have increased since the new councils were formed and it is important councillors are clear about the reasons for the level of reserves being held and what they may be used for.’