Council spends £16k hiring spies to snoop on staff

Council hired private investigators on more than 40 occasions in the last five years to spy on its own staff.

Dudley Council spends £16k hiring spies to snoop on staff

The authority spent more than £16,000 of public money to hire investigators between 2011 and 2015, figures released via a Freedom of Information request show.

In every instance the investigators were tasked with compiling evidence relating to suspected fraudulent conduct by council employees. The total spent was £16,014.79.

Bosses say it is necessary to bring in 'professional services' to swiftly investigate allegations thoroughly.

Almost 60 per cent of the investigations in Dudley resulted in no evidence being obtained to support the allegations.

But union leaders at a regional level said they were concerned that the authority was using private investigators to snoop on staff, many of whom had 'done nothing wrong'.

They have contacted Dudley Council to find out why so many investigations have been launched against workers.

A total of £9,153.64 was spent over the period on investigations that led to staff members being cleared of any wrongdoing, including a prolonged probe into one worker in 2014/15 that stripped £1,972.37 from the public purse.

In the same year another investigation costing £1,429.61 also found no evidence to support the allegation.

The authority says it uses surveillance ‘to support internal resource’. Bosses refused to reveal the reasons why investigators were hired for individual cases. They also declined to reveal how many cases resulted in prosecutions.

Philip Tart, strategic director for resources and transformation services at Dudley Council, said: "At times serious and complex allegations such as fraudulent conduct are made against staff which have to be investigated as a matter of urgency.

"In such circumstances the council has a duty to the public to investigate the allegations thoroughly. This will on occasion require us to bring in professional services to carry out this work quickly. However, the vast majority of investigations are carried out by our own staff."

Around one third of local authorities in the UK admit to having hired private investigators over the last five years, with the vast majority of investigations launched against members of the public.

Both Wolverhampton council and Staffordshire County Council say that over the same period they have not used private detectives to monitor staff.

Keith Heron, regional organiser for Unison in the West Midlands, said: "We recognise that Dudley Council has a responsibility to safeguard the public's funds, but we are concerned that they are using private investigators to snoop on staff, who often, by the council's own standards, have done nothing wrong.

"We will be taking it up with Dudley Council to find out why so many investigations have taken place compared with other authorities."

Posted: 04 February 2016