The Council Official Paid For Two Years Despite Not Working

A suspended Belfast City Council employee was paid for more than two years despite being off work, it can be revealed. The individual, who was facing serious allegations of misconduct, stayed on full pay for 122 weeks while the council decided on a return to work.

It is understood the member of staff has now returned to work. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the last three years the council has paid out a total of £122,222 to 20 suspended staff. Investigations have lasted 47, 42, 33 and 28 weeks in some of the cases. The shortest suspension was three weeks.

The council said it was crucial staff were assumed innocent until disciplinary investigations were completed and therefore they should be paid. But Matthew Elliot, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, attacked the lengthy investigations.

“Two years is far too long to be suspended on full pay,” he said. He said it was part of a wider problem in Government bodies. This sort of situation is almost unheard of in the private sector because company directors have a duty to their shareholders to spend money wisely. In the public sector, it’s far too easy to raise council tax, so officials have less incentive to give good value for money.”

The council refused to say how much each employee was paid or details of each case, citing fears individuals could be identified. The amount paid to suspended staff each year has fallen from £45,107 three years ago, to £32,185 last year. A council source said he was angry ratepayers’ money was wasted. “I’d really like to know what the investigators are doing for that length of time,” he said. “I think ratepayers have a right to know what’s going on.”

A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said it was the council’s policy not to comment on individual cases. “Suspensions are a last resort. Numerous investigations are carried out without recourse to suspension. Suspensions are on full pay as there can be no inference of guilt and employees are innocent until proven guilty.”

Of the 20 suspensions, seven staff were dismissed, four received a final written warning, two received a warning, two returned to work, one resigned and one returned following one week’s unpaid suspension. Three are still suspended.