Staff at Oxford City Council - who have the worst attendance record in the county - are being asked to limit their sick days to eight a year.

Last year, the 1,250 staff took an average of 12 days off a year, the worst record of all five district councils and the county council. The total number of days lost to sickness was 15,000.

Now human resources manager Anne-Marie Scott is putting in place a series of measures to reduce the total to eight per member of staff over the coming 12 months.

On August 4, she told the finance scrutiny committee: "I accept that this is an ambitious target but I take full responsibility for setting it. We have pottered around this problem for too long and we need to get right to the heart of it."

Members of the finance committee heard there was an average of 11.98 days off per employee in 2003/4 - the equivalent of more than 70 full-time posts.

With average council salaries estimated at £15,000 a year, the number of 'sickies' has cost the taxpayer £1.05m.

Three years ago, the city council confessed to having the worst absence record in the country, with staff taking an average of 18 days off a year.

But embarrassed council leaders were later forced to confess that staff had failed to use the computer system properly to collate the figures and the real number was 11 days off per employee.

John Goddard, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat group, said: "We need to know that these latest figures are right because we have a history of not being able to believe our own figures. They were rubbish for years."

Bob Price, Labour councillor for Hinksey Park, said he felt the target of reducing the number of sick days per employee to eight a year could be too ambitious and added that nine might be a more realistic aim for a workforce which included manual workers.

Mrs Scott told the committee that new measures would put the council in the top quarter of district councils in terms of sickness rates.

Mrs Scott said two staff had been dismissed under the sickness absence policy which came into force in April 2003. One of the two former staff members has taken the case to a tribunal, and this would be a robust test of the policy, Mrs Scott added.

She said that staff were combing through absence cases to make sure statistics were properly calculated and that staff nurses and doctors were being urged to intervene once an employee had taken a few days off.