Inquiry call after £7m paid out to suspended council staff

In the last three years, councils across Wales paid out millions to over 750 members of staff who were suspended from duty, leading to calls by the Welsh Conservatives for an independent investigation.

The data was obtained via Freedom of Information (FoI) requests by the Welsh Conservatives, showing that 16 of Wales’ 22 local authorities paid out £7,133,723 to 764 workers who, between them, were suspended for a total of 24,246 weeks.

This means, between 2015/16 and 2017/18, on average, each council employee was suspended for 32 weeks, in receipt of £9,337 for not working.

Cardiff Council made the biggest total pay-out – £1,408,193 – followed by Powys Council, who paid suspended staff £850,621 in this three-year period. The third highest amount spent was by Caerphilly, who paid out £584,773.

Cardiff also suspended the most staff members in this period too, 88, closely followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf, 85. Powys and Swansea both suspended 67, each.

The research conducted by the Welsh Conservatives also revealed another problem with the way local government operates in Wales, as half (11) of councils failed in their statutory duty to provide the information within 20 working days.

Despite acknowledging the request on the day it was sent, Powys took 53 working days to respond, while Flintshire took 58 working days – both nearly two whole months late.

Welsh Conservative research last year also revealed that 17% of FoI requests sent to local authorities, health boards, and the Welsh Government, missed the 20 working day-target.

Flintshire is also understood to have a history of staff quietly leaving the employment of the authority after a period of suspension, without being formally dismissed and on terms not made public.

These allegedly cover issues including Flintshire’s housing maintenance scandal, AD Waste and even relations between elected members and officers.

The independent investigation therefore needs to be extended to include the conduct of Councils in bringing periods of suspension to a conclusion.

Welsh Conservative and Shadow Local Government Minister Mark Isherwood AM, said:

“The concern here isn’t about paying those who are suspended from work: due process must take place, but the sheer number of staff being suspended is problematic.

“That over 750 council staff have been suspended shows the investigation system is broken, a huge number of public servants are not working in the public interest, or both.

“Therefore, I’m calling on the Welsh Government to conduct an independent inquiry into how over £7m of desperately needed funds can be wasted so inefficiently.

“Every council in Wales is feeling the pinch as their budgets are squeezed by the Welsh Labour-led Government, so it’s essential that these processes deliver value-for-money.”

Commenting on the troubling number of late FoIs, Mr Isherwood added:

“It is vital that the public and scrutinising institutions can have access to information from organisations that govern our lives, so this really is worrying.

“If local government is unable to deliver timely access – as it is meant to under the law – then the Welsh Government must step in to ensure councils deliver on their lawful duties.

“Then again, their real terms cut to every council in Wales can have the impact to reduce staff in every part of a council, the information department not exempt.”

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