Local authorities across the Midlands have paid more than £8 million in salaries over two years to staff who were suspended, they have revealed.
One authority, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, paid £64,787 to an employee who was suspended for 504 days – before returning to work.
Another, Coventry City Council, £52,817 for a member of staff who was suspended for 447 days.
The figures were revealed as a result of Freedom of Information requests from campaigning group the Taxpayers’ Alliance.
Birmingham City Council declined to provide figures, because the cost of gathering the information would have been £450, which means by law it is not obliged to respond to the request.
But Birmingham MP Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) has written to the authority demanding to know why the information was not available.
She said: “I’m surprised they don’t have these figures available without the need to carry out research.”
Authorities complain they have no choice but to obey the letter of the law or risk losing expensive cases at employment tribunals – while staff who have been suspended are able to drag out disciplinary procedures by going sick.
Telford & Wrekin Council suspended one employee on a casual hourly rate of £6.47 per hour for 309 working days.
In total, Coventry reported that it had paid out £755,029 in suspended staff salaries between April 2009 and June this year.
Sandwell paid out £479,387, Worcestershire £281,987, Tamworth £231,692, Walsall £215,288, Telford & Wrekin £137,653 and Wolverhampton £135,345.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance sent requests to 78 councils in June, of which 69 responded and 57 provided details of payments to suspended employees.
Six refused to provide any information, 12 did not provide salary details, two said they did not record the information requested and one simply did not respond.
The eventual outcome of the employees’ cases was disclosed in 876 cases. Of these 47 per cent left the organisation, 45 per cent were retained, while eight per cent are on-going.
A total of 1,328 cases of suspension were reported by councils.
Of these, two sleeping while on duty and two for having other employment while on sick leave from the council. A further 15 cases were for theft including theft from service users and one incident of theft from the council and misuse of a council vehicle.
There were nine recorded cases of sexual misconduct, assault and/or harassment. There were an additional 13 cases of assault and two involving violence. There was also one alleged kidnap.
At least 21 cases across the Midlands resulted in criminal charges. Of these, 18 members of staff did not continue in their employment, and were paid more than £170,000 while suspended.
Ms Stuart said she had written to Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes to ask why the council could not provide the figures.
She said: “The law does allow organisations to avoid providing information if it will cost more than £450, but that hasn’t prevented other councils.
“Birmingham is the largest local authority in the country and it may well cost more for us than for a smaller council. But the problem is that this becomes a ‘‘get out of jail free’’ card for Birmingham, which can avoid responding to Freedom of Information requests simply because providing information costs it more than other councils.
“Freedom of Information has to be meaningful and apply to the largest council as well as the smallest one.”
A Coventry council spokesperson said: “Our records show a significant reduction in suspensions in 2011-12. Suspension is a neutral act which protects the employee and the employer when serious allegations have been made.
“While every effort is made to minimise periods of suspension, complex issues such as alleged criminal acts may lead to extended periods of suspension which are beyond the control of the employer.
“Employment contract provisions remain in place during the period of suspension.”
A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: “The Freedom of Information Act is pretty clear, if a question is going to take longer than the 18 ‘‘free’’ hours or will cost more than £450 to answer then the individual or organisation has the option to modify the question or pay for the extra time it would take to answer it themselves.”
“It is important to remember that the time spent answering FOI’s is a cost to the taxpayer and responding to more than 1,000 requests each year costs Birmingham City Council in the region of £800,000, when salaries and legal costs are taken into a account.”