Our councils need to tread a fine line on suspensions

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STEVE CANAVAN: The case of the 'kitchen' door is open and shut

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When it comes to our councils, we know that our elected officials, the councillors, will ultimately have to answer to the ballot box.

Of course, if they breach their code of conduct during their time in office, they may be forced to leave their office early as well.

But what about the council’s officers – the people behind the scenes who are responsible for much of the day-to-day workings of our local authorities?

Who holds them accountable and how are their transgressions dealt with?

As the result of a News investigation, we can see that dozens of officers from across our region have been suspended between 2010 and 2013 for a wide variety of allegations.

Fortunately, these 38 officers at district and unitary level and a further 73 at the county council only represent a small, albeit significant, percentage of civil servants working in the area.

And it is safe to say that some of the allegations appear fairly trivial on the surface (arguments over a hat), while others are more troubling (the use of racist language, substance abuse, tipping a refuse truck).

However, what is worrying, particularly to the taxpayer, is the number of days that are racked up on full pay while these allegations are investigated.

It was nearly 2,000 days in Portsmouth alone, at a cost of £126,000.

In a statement city lawyer Michael Lawther said the procedures must be ‘robust, fair and legally compliant.’

While this is true, these investigations need to be carried out as swiftly as possible.

Any perceived waste of taxpayers’ money will never play well.

Of course, there is the assumption of innocent until proven guilty and councils need to tread a fine line.

Suspension periods of up to three months appear excessive, but we don’t know all the details of the case. With this as in many other aspects of council work, they need to be completely transparent so that the public can be satisfied their money is being well spent.