WORKERS being suspended on full pay has left taxpayers with a bill for £230,000, it has emerged.

A total of 45 workers at Worcestershire County Council have been suspended on full pay since 2011, with some being absent for more than 12 months.

The county council has opted to keep the reasons for the staff suspensions secret, although cases could include situations which involve allegations of misconduct, or police matters, which would require the employee to be suspended while investigations are carried out.

Of the 45, a total of 31 workers returned to their jobs in the end, with 12 of them being sacked and two having resigned.

In the 2011/12 financial year, 18 staff were suspended, costing £95,357, and in 2012/13, 15 employees were forced to stay off, costing £95,346.

Figures for the first nine months of 2013/14, from April to December, reveal 12 suspensions so far, resulting in a bill for £39,637.

Three suspensions lasted more than a year, while two lasted over nine months and another seven took more than seven months to conclude.

A total of 23 took more than a month to sort out, and the other 10 carried on for less than four weeks, resulting in a total bill of £230,340.

Councillor Peter McDonald, leader of the opposition Labour group, branded the figures “astonishing”.

“In certain situations you would expect the odd suspension, like where allegations are made over a social worker it can get quite serious and the right thing would be to ask them to take time off while it’s sorted out,” he said. 

“But I didn’t expect these figures. No doubt, the viewing figures of Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women have increased because of the large number of staff suspended on full pay.

“We need to know why this is such a big problem in Worcestershire and more importantly to learn the lessons to prevent us from doing this again.

“We want to pay people to work hard for Worcestershire residents, not to stay at home watching daytime television.”

But the council’s Conservative leadership has defended the suspensions, saying it is a tiny proportion of the 5,000 employees at the county council and that under employment law, those suspended are entitled to full pay.

Councillor John Campion, the cabinet member for transformation and commissioning, said: “I’m surprised the leader of the Labour group would make light of such a serious and important issue.

“The council does not accept there are a large number of employees being paid to stay away from work.

“With a workforce of over 5,000, on average, we have under 20 suspensions per year.”

Robert Oxley, campaign director of the Taxpayers' Alliance said: “This is a staggering amount to pay to suspended staff stuck on gardening leave for months on end.

“It isn't fair on taxpayers or the staff involved for the cases to be allowed to drag on for such lengthy periods.

“Ensuring decisions about suspended employees are made swiftly and fairly is vital to ensure taxpayers’ money isn’t squandered paying council staff with their feet up.”