Suffolk County Council spent £524k of taxpayers’ money in four years on compensation claims from its own staff
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk County Council has been left with a legal bill of £524,000 because of compensation claims from its own staff in the last four years.
The highest amount paid out for one staff claim was £103,782, which was categorised under a broad description of “strains/sprains”.
The figures, released following a Freedom of Information request from the EADT, reveal 95 council workers have made claims since 2011, 42 of them successful, with many of the highest payouts for “slips or trips” regularly reaching five-figure sums – including legal costs.
The council also spent more than £2 million on compensation claims by members of the public in that time, following 343 successful claims. Some related to what appear to be people tripping on uneven pavements.
A spokesman for the council said professional claims handlers were appointed to decide liability and “maintain the council’s wishes of defending claims where legally possible”.
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“A majority of the claims are successfully rejected, however these incur own defence costs,” he added.
“Through regular monitoring of claims made, lessons are learned throughout the process.”
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The scale of expenditure, however, has shocked the council’s chairman Christopher Hudson, who has called for this issue to be investigated.
“I’m horrified at these figures, which are for really huge sums of public money,” he said.
“I think we live in a very litigious society and that’s something that has changed over recent years.
“But as a custodian of the public purse I’m horrified by the amount of taxpayers’ money that is being paid out and I wonder how much of it could be avoided.
“I had no idea of the enormity of these figures and I will be raising the issue with my colleagues because we need an in depth look at what is going on.”
The highest single cost to the council was £547,378, which related to someone who suffered mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, often brought on by exposure to asbestos, which dates back to 1998, but was paid in 2012.
A further £426,283 was paid out in 2012 in respect to 10 sex abuse claims made by former students of the disgraced Stowmarket teacher Derek Cable, which date back to the 1970s.
A total of £223,335 was paid out in 2011 following a serious road accident the previous year when Glynn Turner, a father of three from Kesgrave, suffered brain injuries when he came off his motorbike in Benhall on the A12 after colliding with roadsigns.
But a quarter of the top 20 highest claims involving the public refer to simple “surface defects” and the majority of the highest payments to staff involve just “sprains and strains”.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which campaigns against wasteful spending of public money, has also expressed its concern about the sums involved.
Its chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “There are, of course, a number of legacy issues which need to be dealt with and serious physical disabilities must be compensated. However, the number of claims arising in the past two years suggests the council is either not providing a safe environment for staff and residents or is paying out too quickly on spurious claims. Either way, it’s taxpayers that end up with the bill - and that bill must come down.”
The council spokesman added: “Through regular monitoring of claims made, lessons are learned throughout the process. A strategic view will be taken to ensure improvements can be implemented for future claim prevention.”