Allerdale council has reported a “significant improvement” in staff sickness rates which this time last year were more than double the national average.

The rates have fallen from an average of 12.72 days a year at the end of the last financial year to just 5.4 days in the first quarter of this one.

A council report said the better-than-target figures were not only down to a “large reduction” in long-term sickness but also to an “increase in wellbeing initiatives such as counselling services”.

Last year, it was reported that Allerdale council had seen a spike in sickness, with the single biggest cause of staff absence being psychological.

The authority fared slightly better when compared with some other councils across the north west as a whole, but figures were still higher than Copeland council, Carlisle City Council, Eden Council and South Lakeland Council.

And of the six district councils in Cumbria, only Barrow had a poorer record than Allerdale, with the other four all faring better.

Speaking at an executive meeting on Wedneday night, cCouncil leader Marion Fitzgerald said: “We have seen a marked improvement in sickness absence figures. We continue also to exceed targets on processing time for benefit claims.”

However, it was also revealed in the same meeting that the council is missing some targets elsewhere.

A controversial decision to suspend some of its recycling services following problems with its contractor, FCC, had led to a corresponding increase in calls and complaints.

The authority has seen an abandoned call rate of 19 per cent against a target of 7 per cent, which a report blamed on the sheer volume of calls to the council.

In the first quarter, Allerdale council was on target with 63 per cent of its performance targets and with 10 showing as amber, or off-target. A further five registered as red, which means the authority is “significantly” off-target in these instances.

Summarising the performance Mrs Fitzgerald said this was a “similar proportion” of red, amber and green as at the end of 2018/19.

The proportion of invoices from local Cumbrian businesses paid within 14 days stands at 92.1 per cent against a target of 98 per cent, but is expected to improve. Meanwhile, spending on goods and services with local suppliers was 24.8 per cent against a target of 42 per cent, which has been attributed to the buying of specialist goods and services not available locally.

Leisure centre usage by concessionary groups at Workington and the Wave in Maryport was “significantly lower” than target.

And 80 per cent of food safety inspections were carried out against a target of 100 per cent. Explaining the inspection figures, a council spokesman said: “There were five businesses in Allerdale which required a Category B inspection during that quarter.

“Therefore, if one inspection is delayed then this has a high statistical impact on the performance indicator.

“The council aims to ensure all inspections are carried out on target, however due to resource issues we were not able to do this with one business in the first quarter. This inspection has now been carried out.” The council also fell short on the number of housing units granted planning permission – only 47 against a target of 107.

This had been blamed on “major applications” held in abeyance at the agent’s requests, and the refusal of a major application by members of the planning panel.