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Councils paid more than £1.5m to suspended staff

Sandwell | News | Published:

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.

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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.

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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."

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