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Huge disparity in councillor caseloads at Sandwell Council

By Jamie Brassington | Sandwell | Politics | Published: | Last Updated:

New figures show a huge disparity between councillor caseloads in a Black Country borough.

Sandwell Council House

Some Sandwell councillors logged just a single piece of work in a 10 month period - while others did more than 150.

But council bosses insist these figures aren't a true reflection of councillor workloads, as some cases aren't properly logged.

It comes as Labour-run Sandwell Council is set to launch a new IT portal in May to track casework more accurately.

The data was revealed following a Freedom Of Information request by the Express & Star.

It shows that since the last local elections in May 2019, three councillors logged a single piece of casework. Meanwhile nine out of 72 logged five or less.

The councillors logging one piece of casework were Bristnall Councillors Saikha Kausar and Elaine Giles and Wednesbury South Councillor Pam Hughes.

Both Councillors Giles and Hughes insist they have done more than one - and Councillor Hughes has also been battling cancer in hospital.

But it is claimed Councillor Kausar lives in London - and only attends a meeting once every three months to avoid the Labour Party whip.

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Saikha Kausar

This is despite councillors being elected officials who get a basic salary of about £11,000 per year - paid by taxpayers - in Sandwell.

Carol Goult, the former Sandwell deputy mayor and former Bristnall councillor, told the Express & Star: "She [Councillor Kausar] hasn't done anything.

"To be honest, I'm still picking up council work. Residents are coming to me because they can't get hold of her.

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"She has not done a single surgery since she was elected.

"It was said that the people who were pushing her [to become a councillor] knew that she was getting married and was moving to London.

"If you don't turn up for a meeting every three months, you get the Labour Party whip. She only comes back once every three months.

"Nobody in the ward has seen her, they can't get hold of her."

Former Sandwell deputy mayor Carol Goult

Councillor Kausar was elected in the local elections in May, 2019. She replaced Mrs Goult, who was deselected by Labour ahead of the elections and had served the Bristnall Ward for four years. Councillor Kausar was approached for comment.

Councillor Giles has been a councillor for 16 years. She disputed the fact she had done one piece of casework, saying: "The figures are not accurate.

"Sometimes I may deal with four pieces of casework per week. Sometimes it may be more or less. I go straight to the officers direct."

This is instead of sending in forms in to officers, which is known as "members enquiries". Going direct is a faster method of dealing with work, she added.

Wednesbury North councillor Pete Hughes, who is the husband of Pam, revealed his wife has been battling cancer for the past 18 months.

But she has still been dealing with casework. "She has definitely dealt with more than piece of casework," he said.

"I have submitted work on her behalf."

He added: "The reporting mechanism is a complete and utter mess and has been for years."

As a result of this, the council is bringing in a new IT portal which has been built in house by the local authority's technicians.

A trial system is currently in operation and the portal is expected to come into force in May. It has been implemented to provide an easier and more coherent way of logging casework.

Sandwell Council leader Yvonne Davies said: "We have created the portal in-house with our IT people because we have recognised a huge gap in how councillors do casework."

Council leader Yvonne Davies

Councillor Davies offered this explanation as to why there is a huge disparity in the figures. It is believed some older councillors prefer old-fashioned methods of reporting casework, such as using telephone, which is why there is this difference in the figures.

"Some councillors, particularly older councillors, are not tech savvy and prefer word of mouth," she said. "Some people prefer to see the whites of people's eyes."

Between May 2019 and March 2020, nine out of 72 councillors had logged five or less pieces of casework.

West Bromwich Central Councillor Mohinder Tagger logged zero. But it is understood he is battling with illness.

Councillor Tagger also logged zero in the previous year, from April 2018 to March 2019.

The others were: Mrs Goult [3] before she was deselected [she got 44 the previous year as deputy mayor]; Rowley Councillor Shaheen Akhtar [2]; St Paul's Councillor Babu Singh Bawa [5]; Greets Green and Lyng Councillor Igbal Padda [2]; and Bristnall Councillor Rajbir Singh [3].

Councillor Singh also said the council's system the figures do not accurately reflect his workload. He said: "The number of cases recorded are those which are dealt through members services and my Sandwell. Whereas most of my case work is dealt directly by the relevant departments, which I find more convenient and quicker."

All the other councillors were approached for comment.

In contrast, the councillors with the three highest tallies were: Wednesbury North Councillor Elaine Costigan [244], Friar Park Councillor Simon Hackett [242] and Hateley Heath Councillor Paul Moore [159].

Councillor Paul Moore

Councillor Costigan, who has been a councillor for 17 years, said: "I am extremely busy, probably because I have been doing this a long time.

"I just want to support the residents as much as I can."

Councillor Moore, who has been elected for 10 years, added: "I'm a busy councillor and see lots of enquiries. I want to help everyone."

The Express & Star investigation took three months. The FOI request was initially refused before an appeal was lodged with the local authority and Sandwell Council released the data.

A Sandwell Council spokesman added: "Case work is received and dealt with by elected members and raised through various channels such as, by letter, email, telephone, face to face and contact portals.

"The information held are those that are routed through the council's contact centre, My Sandwell portal and through the cabinet and member support functions.

"The figures are also affected by some members being unable to deal with, or having limited opportunity to undertake, case work due to illness during certain period in the municipal year.

"Accordingly, the case work statistics detailed below are not an accurate reflection of the totality of case work undertaken by elected members.

"The council is currently developing a new Member Portal which will enable case work to be better captured and monitored in the coming months."

Jamie Brassington

By Jamie Brassington
Senior Multi-Media Journalist - @JamieB_Star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star. Contact me at jamie.brassington@expressandstar.co.uk.

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