Councils paid more than £1.5m to suspended staff

Suspended council staff in Staffordshire, Wolverhampton and the Black Country were paid more than £1.5 million over a three-year period, new figures have revealed.

Hundreds of employees were suspended by councils in Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell and Staffordshire between 2011 and 2013.

Investigations were launched into allegations brought against more than 200 staff, including that of fraud, bullying, sexual misconduct and drug crimes.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed Sandwell Council spent more than £366,000 on suspended staff between April 2011 and December 2013.

Walsall Council spent more than £363,000 on staff who were suspended from 2011 and 2013, while Dudley Council shelled out more than £353,000 over two years.

Staffordshire County Council paid more than £224,000 to suspended staff between 2011 and 2013 and payments by Wolverhampton City Council amounted to almost £200,000 over two years.

In Sandwell, the authority paid 56 staff on suspension £366,007.38 between April 2011 and December 2013

Some of the issues that were investigated included staff accused of bullying, sexual misconduct and being in possession or supplying drugs.

Other matters investigated included allegations about staff losing confidential files, assault, misusing council property and being under the influence of alcohol on duty.

Council leader Darren Cooper said: “If a member of staff is suspended it is a neutral act while an investigation is carried out. During this time, like all good employers, we have a legal obligation to pay a person’s salary until the outcome of the inquiry.”

It emerged earlier this year that three council workers who were suspended on full pay after a suspected data leak had returned to work at Sandwell Council but it cost the authority around £35,000 in wages.

Last month, it was revealed that a Sandwell Council worker had been suspended and was under investigation after an email was sent to colleagues urging them to bombard mobile phones with calls and messages to ‘disrupt’ the office.

In Walsall, 36 employees who were suspended between 2011 and 2013 were paid £363,629 by the council and investigations led to nine dismissals.

The authority said suspensions were only considered when there were allegations that could amount to gross misconduct and were used as a ‘last resort’.

It was revealed last month how Paul Davies, the former executive director for social care and inclusion at Walsall Council, received more than £138,000 during his 15-month suspension.

He was dismissed in March following an investigation after ‘issues’ raised in the department, with bosses remaining tight-lipped over the details.

He has since lodged an appeal against his dismissal as well as a claim for sex discrimination to an employment tribunal.

Figures also showed that Dudley Council spent £353,948 paying 61 staff suspended in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Almost a quarter of those suspended were dismissed.

Allegations brought against staff included fraud, theft, misusing or being negligent of council resources and issues surrounding safeguarding and child protection.

Councillor Gaye Partridge, cabinet member for human resources, law and governance, said: “When a suspension takes place, it is without prejudice and is not a disciplinary act, so it must be on full pay, or basic pay plus average bonus.

“It would be unlawful to deduct money from an employee’s salary until misconduct has been proven.

“Whenever it is appropriate, an employee will be given alternative duties rather than be suspended.

“We investigate each allegation of gross misconduct thoroughly, which takes time, but each case is conducted as quickly as possible.”

Staffordshire County Council paid a total of £224,333 to 39 members of staff who were suspended between 2011 and 2013, with 20 being eventually dismissed.

Staff were suspended over issues relating to computer security and data protection, conduct, harassment and bullying.

Ian Parry, deputy leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “We are a well-run council focused on delivering value for money for Staffordshire taxpayers and over the last three years we changed the way we work to halve the average length of suspensions, and reduce the costs associated with them.

“On the rare occasions that allegations are made against any of our staff, which over the last three years represents less that 0.2 per cent of the workforce, we have a duty to investigate thoroughly and fairly.

“Like any responsible employer, we suspend staff if serious allegations are made. This is a neutral act that protects the employee and any other interested parties while an investigation takes place.”

The figures showed Wolverhampton City Council paid £194,739 to staff who were suspended during the 2011/12 and 2012/13 financial years.

The cash was shared between 19 staff over the two-year period, with £26,177.58 being paid to a single employee.

The suspensions resulted in one dismissal, four resignations, four warnings and no further action in 10 cases.

Spokesman for Wolverhampton City Council, Tim Clark said: “The decision to suspend an employee is not taken lightly and we would only take such a step in the most extreme cases.

“The fact we have only suspended what equates to 0.3 per cent of our workforce during the two year period the Express & Star asked us to provide figures for is evidence of how rarely the measure is used.”

Comments for: "Councils paid more than £1.5m to suspended staff "

funny old world

I would have thought there would have been more, after all it's only taxpayers money.

jeffrey.borra

Yes it is so easy to spend someone else's money

oldrocker

Yes. Easy to be glib. But suppose you're in work and suddenly someone makes a claim that you touched them sexually.

What's the employer to do?

Leave them in that situation risking further complaints? Move them to another location risking ' He/she did it once it might happen here' complaints.

Or remove the 'accused' until a full investigation is carried out?

Brain first, gob second is a good maxim.

dave.clare.77

'Innocent until or unless proven guilty' - it's an old maxim but necessary to bear it in mind. Any punishment comes after the verdict not before. Of course they should continue to be paid. Not all people suspended are found guilty or there would be no point having an investigation.

charlie17

Do not believe they should even be suspended, they could continue to work until proved innocent or guilty. If guilty then they could be suspended without pay for a short period or fired for a serious offence. If not guilty they should be given an apology and allowed to continue working. Do not believe private companies would suspend anyone with full pay, but maybe they do these days.

ste

No employer is going to want someone accused of theft or fraud working for them and I wouldn't imagine staff would want to work with someone accused of bullying or sexual harassment

charlie17

Not true I worked for a company years ago when someone was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The police were involved but he continued to work as a supervisor of mainly female employees who all arrived at the Court to give evidence in his favour. As a result he was acquitted. Every case is different but it is suggested that if an accusation had some foundation the person concerned would leave because of peer pressure.

ste

And I worked for a company where someone was suspected of embesslement and they were suspended straight away pending police enquiries. I believe that that is the most common outcome.

I don't think leaving it to peer pressure is a good or fair way at all.

Phil

An average payment of £0.5 million per year seems to me to be a pretty small amount when you consider that it's a total for all councils covering the whole of the Black Country and Staffordshire.

In Wolverhampton's case, 0.3% of the workforce over two years means they're suspending 1.5 out of every 1000 employees each year. That hardly seems excessive.

I don't know why this is considered newsworthy.

Chesterfield.Wolf

Oh my, the E&S alleging overpayment and waste of public money. Wow!

But wait, what are the equivalent payments for the private sector? Don't know? Well what a surprise! Mind you, you still pay for them, though not through taxation, so that's OK then!

Mind you, the public sector isn't entitled to the most basic human rights, such as the assumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is GROW UP AND, IF YOU WANT TO ATTACK THE PUBLIC SECTOR, DO SO IN A COHERENT AND INTELLIGENT WAY, NOT IN A SIMPLISTIC AND, QUITE FRANKLY, CHILDISH WAY!