TOWN hall bosses have rubber-stamped a new policy aimed at curing Burnley Council's sickness blues.

Concerns were raised earlier this year about levels of absence among town hall staff and its cost to council tax payers.

Although the number of days lost through sickness is falling, the council is still missing its targets for absence.

Target figures for 2002/03 show there was an average of 10.8 days absent per employee for the year and by March 2005 the council wants to reduce this to an average of 8.2 days.

The actual figures show an average of 11.8 days per worker, a reduction of one day from 2001/02.

Lancashire County Council has an average of 8.9 days a year, Blackburn with Darwen, excluding teachers, is 12.8 and the private sector, seven.

In order to improve the situation town hall bosses have agreed several changes to the procedure for dealing with absence through sickness.

These will include:

Removing the distinction between sickness covered by a doctor's certificate and self-certified sickness

Changing the "trigger points" stage at which action is taken to investigate employee sickness.

In the case of short-term absence a review takes place aftersix short-term absences or a total of 11 days in a year.

This will be changed to four short-term absences or a total of 11 days.

A discussion will be held between line managers and employees after each absence.

Medical reviews in the case of long-term absence will be held after six weeks rather than the current eight weeks.

An exception is in the case of absence through stress, when a review will happen after four weeks.

The changes were agreed at a meeting of the borough council's executive earlier this week.

Peter Kenyon, executive member for best value and resources, said: "The figures are on a downward trend but are not moving fast enough and we do not want them to level off.

"Hopefully the new policy will accelerate that trend by picking up levels of sickness earlier."

Conservative leader on the council Peter Doyle said: "Absence is costing the council a huge amount of money and hopefully this policy will help reduce sickness and the cost to the council tax payer.

"However we must make sure the new policy is fully enforced and that those playing the sickness game are targeted."

A spokesman for the public sector workers union, UNISON, said that every town hall employee had an average 8.8 days off during the last three quarters of 2002.

"Of the 11 other Lancashire authorities we are now the fourth best. So there are eight other authorities with worse records.

"Our record is not that bad and it is improving quite dramatically."