§ Mr. Bercow
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of whether the sickness absence reduction target for 2001–02 will be met. 
§ Mr. Morley
Following publication, in 1998, of the Cabinet Office report 'Working Well Together—Managing Attendance in the Public Sector' and the subsequent setting of targets for the reduction of sickness absence in the civil service this Department compiled comprehensive guidance on managing sickness absence which it successfully piloted in selected areas. Those arrangements were ready to be rolled out across the Department, when the outbreak of foot and mouth disease concentrated resources elsewhere.
Following the creation of the new Department and the ending of the foot and mouth outbreak, work on the new sickness absence management arrangements has been 877W re-started, but as yet no assessment has been made as to whether the sickness absence target for 2001–02 will be met.
Responsibility for attendance matters within the Central Science Laboratory Agency (CSL), the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and the Centre for Environmental Fisheries and Aquaculture Science Agency (CEFAS)—all former MAFF agencies—has been delegated to the agency Chief Executives.
CEFAS has been developing a robust attendance management system incorporating return to work interviews and closer monitoring of short term absences. They are confident they are on track to meet the 2001 target and with the imminent introduction of the new arrangements they should be well placed to monitor absence levels which in turn will provide them with the best opportunity of meeting their 2003 target.
Responses from CSL and VLA have been included by letter. The Pesticides Safety Directorate, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate Agencies and the Rural Payments Agency are covered by the departmental response.
Letter from Professor Michael Roberts to Mr. John Bercow, dated April 2002:I have been asked to reply, in respect of the Central Science Laboratory, to your question regarding an assessment of whether the sickness absence reduction target for 2001–2002 will be met.Following publication, in 1998, of the Cabinet Office report 'Working Well Together—Managing Attendance in the Public Sector' and the subsequent setting of targets for the reduction of sickness absence in the Civil Service, Central Science Laboratory has been carrying out continuous improvements to the process of managing sickness absence. This includes the employment of an on-site Occupational Health Adviser.Work on the new sickness absence management arrangements have now been re-started, following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease which concentrated resources elsewhere, but as yet no assessment has been made as to whether the sickness absence target for 2001–2001 will be met.
Letter from Professor Steve Edwards to Mr. John Bercow, dated April 2002:The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question on what recent assessment has been made of whether the sickness absence reduction target for 2001–2002 will be met.VLA's approach to managing sickness has been based on a proactive stance in relation to all areas of health surveillance and sickness absence and by providing comprehensive advice and guidance to staff and managers. This is supported by appropriate monitoring systems. We are constantly reviewing procedures in the light of the Cabinet Office report 'Working Well Together—Managing Attendance in the Public Sector'.VLA's sickness absence reduction target will be incorporated into that established for DEFRA. No separate assessment has yet been made as to whether the sickness absence target for 2001–2002 will be met.