Unions and campaigners have blasted the amount of taxpayers’ money being “squandered” on the salaries of public sector employees subjected to lengthy suspensions as “staggering”.
Calls are now being made for swifter decisions on disciplinary matters to be made and alternative solutions to be found to prevent cases dragging on for employees and to cut the cost to the public purse.
Neil Bowles, joint branch board chairman of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, said some of the suspensions imposed on officers were “far too long” and could easily have been dealt with more quickly.
“It changes officers forever – the strain it puts on them and their families, they can’t mix with their colleagues,” he said.
“It’s a shocking way to deal with your staff for an investigation that should and could have been dealt with within six months.”
Mr Bowles acknowledged it was necessary for forces to “weed out” staff suspected of gross misconduct or crimes and said it was “only fair” to keep suspended staff on full pay until the conclusion of disciplinary or criminal hearings, because “everyone is innocent until proven guilty”.
But suspensions need not always be imposed while such matters are investigated and alternative solutions should be found whenever possible, he said.
“In some cases, obviously they need to be taken out of the investigative loop, for public confidence and transparency and to make sure they are independently investigated,” said Mr Bowles.
“However, more often than not, we can find work for them to do within the force that is not public facing or within the evidence chain – but those jobs are rapidly disappearing.
“It is a waste of public money if somebody is suspended for such a long time and even if they are cleared to return to work they will have a stain on their character.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance said the £7.5m paid to suspended staff by public sector employers in Yorkshire over the past three years was a “staggering amount”.
Campaign manager Robert Oxley said: “It isn’t fair on taxpayers or those involved for cases to be allowed to drag on.
“Decisions about suspensions must be made swiftly and fairly to ensure taxpayers’ money isn’t squandered paying staff with their feet up rather than out on the beat, the ward or at their desks.”
Local Government Yorkshire and Humber (LGYH), a cross-party alliance of the region’s local authorities including councils and police and crime commissioners, said it was down to individual authorities to make their own decisions on suspensions, taking into account statutory regulations, employment legislation and case law.
LGYH’s regional employers director, Steve Walmsley, said: “Local authorities would normally only suspend people in circumstances where they feel either that gross misconduct has possibly taken place or where it will be potentially prejudicial to the investigation for employees to stay in work.
“Suspension normally includes a time limit built in, which will be periodically reviewed by the local authority both for the length of the suspension and for the progress of the investigation and disciplinary proceedings.
“Some disciplinary cases can be considerably extended in circumstances where a criminal investigation is also involved and this has to be completed before any internal action can proceed.”
Unison’s head of local government for Yorkshire and Humberside, Tony Pearson, said: “There are certainly many cases when suspension may be the most appropriate step to take, to allow proper investigations to be carried out – especially in cases where our members or the public may be at risk.
“But we are also aware that the Government’s huge and relentless cuts to local government and NHS funding has seen a big drop in the number of trained and qualified staff capable of dealing with human resources problems.”