September 25, 2008

Civil Service Sick Leave Report on Way


AN influential Assembly body will begin its next session by publishing findings on civil service sick leave.

The watchdog Public Accounts Committee's plans also include investigations into soaring rate arrears levels and fraud by a prominent lawyer.

PAC members agreed a programme of future work ahead of the Assembly's summer recess.

It will resume on September 4 with the launch of a report on absenteeism in Northern Ireland government departments.

The committee's examination of this issue stems from a Northern Ireland Audit Office report published in May.

It stated that absence levels in the Northern Ireland Civil Service are around 36% higher than in GB departments.

The report also described female sickness absence as "extraordinarily high" and called for research into its causes.

Later in September, the PAC will be examining the reasons for a steep rise in rate arrears level in Northern Ireland in recent years.

The increases have been blamed on problems with a new IT system at the Government's rate collection organisation.

The level of rate arrears climbed to Pounds 130m earlier this but has since been reduced to Pounds 85m.

Other issues on the Assembly committee's agenda include Government efforts to tackle fuel poverty and the establishment of a Laboratory and Pharmacy Services Centre at Altnagelvin Area Hospital.

In December, the PAC will be holding a hearing on frauds committed against the NHS by Belfast solicitor George Brangam.

Mr Brangam died last year while at the centre of a major police investigation.

He made fraudulent claims for payments from health service bodies over an eight-year period, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Health

The Assembly committee is expected to demand answers on why the lawyer's corrupt activities were not detected at an earlier stage.

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