The level of absenteeism among staff in our Department over the past few years has been consistently lower than the average across the Northern Ireland Civil Service. During 2006-07, 10·7 working days were lost for each member of staff in OFMDFM compared with an average of 13·7 across the service. During 2007-08, 9·7 working days were lost for each member of staff in OFMDFM compared with an average of 12·9 across the service. During 2008-09, OFMDFM absence rate figures reduced again to 6·8 days, which was the lowest in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and compares with 11 days for the rest of the service.
We are not yet able to report the final absence figures for 2009-2010, but the provisional figures indicate that we should continue to have a lower than average level of absenteeism in the Department. We expect to see finalised headline figures for 2009-2010 later in the year. We also expect a substantive report on sickness absence across the Northern Ireland Civil Service to be published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in the autumn.
In my view, yes. I always regard targets not as something that must be reached but as something that is just out of reach. Therefore, we have to stretch to get the best from our programmes and, indeed, the various areas in which we set out targets in the Programme for Government. When I was Finance Minister, absenteeism figures were appalling. Some Departments in which permanent secretaries had given attention to the matter had much better statistical evidence. We have now raised the level of concern about absenteeism to the extent that we can see a reduction in Departments across the board, and the overall figures are reducing substantially. However, our figures are still much higher than those in the private sector, so there is more work to be done.