Cash-strapped councils face the strain due to staff tribunal claims (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Cash-strapped councils face the strain due to staff tribunal claims
THE cost of employment tribunal claims to the region's cash-strapped councils is revealed today by The Northern Echo.
A number of local authorities were asked how much they had paid in compensation to staff who had sued over the past five financial years -whether in settlement or having been ordered by a tribunal - and details of any legal costs.
Redcar and Cleveland Council paid the highest single amount to an individual - £443,000 - in November 2009 to former equalities officer Pauline Scanlon, who was dismissed for whistleblowing and brought a claim for lost earnings.
The council's legal costs peaked at £292,000 in 2008/9, although this figure fell to £48,900 in 2011/12.
The authority had faced more than two thousand claims relating to equal pay, although all but a few had now been concluded.
It said it was now successfully managing its financial exposure to claims, despite large scale staff reductions because of Government spending cuts.
North Yorkshire County Council paid £363,909 in compensation between 2007/8 and 2011/12, including equal pay claims.
Its legal costs in 2011/12 were £192,181.
Council leader John Weighell said: "Local government is being downsized and it is inevitable that some staff losing their jobs may not be happy.
"If they have any reason to bring a claim we would be concerned about that with the budget pressures we are facing."
Durham County Council paid £159,632 in compensation in 2011/12, although this figure did not include equal pay litigation.
It was involved in 24 employment tribunal cases over the past three years, with £60,000 the most paid to a single claimant.
Darlington Borough Council paid £8,500 to settle claims in 2011/12, not including equal pay claims.
However its costs - this time including equal pay claims - amounted to £152,516.
In 2010/11 they were £220,065.
A spokeswoman said tribunal claims added to the pressure on the council's "already strained budget".
In October last year Stockton Borough Council paid £41,758 in damages to a 50-year-old woman who was unfairly dismissed.
The authority's legal costs and those from barristers fees amounted to a further £69,545 in 2011/12.
Hartlepool Council dealt with 301 equal pay claim cases over the past five years, resulting in a legal bill of £146,409. It gave no details of compensation paid.
A spokesman said: "Expenditure on tribunals is kept to a minimum, but on occasions we engage professional advice to protect our interests."
With such costs proving a burden for many employers, the Government has introduced upfront fees for workers bringing a claim along with a 12-month cap on compensation awards for unfair dismissal.
Kevin Rowan, regional secretary of the TUC, which has criticised the changes, admitted there was a significant cost involved in tribunals, but they were a "hugely important part" of people's rights at work.
He added: "In this climate when employers are looking to shed costs there is a case for scrutinising employment rights more closely than ever.
"Quite often the threat of an employment tribunal ensures the letter of the law is followed."
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