Recently the Taxpayer’s Alliance published some research into the sums councils have been paying out in compensation.
Over £104 million was paid out in compensation claims against local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales over 2013-14 and 2014-15. Nearly £8,000,000 paid out in claims related to potholes over 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“The compensation culture is costing taxpayers dear and every pound spent on settlements or higher insurance premiums is a pound that isn’t spent on essential services such as road maintenance or social care.
“Of course, some of the payments made by councils will be entirely justified, as the most serious accidents can change lives. But in many cases, local authorities and their staff will be failing to live up to the standards required of them by law or paying out on frivolous claims too easily.
“Councils must do everything they can to ensure their mistakes and negligence don’t result in such large bills for hard-pressed taxpayers – and take appropriate action against staff whose actions result in costly claims. We must also root out those who are playing the system with spurious demands for taxpayers’ cash.”
But the most startling aspect came from looking at the detailed figures. Lambeth Council paid out £5.264 million.
In the Evening Standard a spokesman for Lambeth Council hit back:
“This list is clearly not a like for like comparison – we have provided more information than other local authorities.
“Lambeth council handles all claims in house meaning we have a much more comprehensive list of compensation payments.
“Other councils may have failed to include compensation that has been paid out by their external insurers, or that claims handlers have paid on their behalf, which is why Lambeth’s figure appears so much larger.
“The compensation covers all housing issues, employee claims and more which other councils have in some instances clearly not included. For those reasons the information isn’t a fair or accurate comparison.”
Of course some of these points may have some validity. But the mentality is pretty depressing. This is the Council with the highest level of pay-outs in the country. It doesn’t consider for a moment the possibility that it might be doing something wrong. Instead it tries to suggest the whole explanation comes in how the figures are assessed.
Let us return to the example of potholes. Last year Lambeth Council made compensation payments for 23 pothole related incidents. Other London boroughs paid out half a dozen or a dozen times. Could it be that Lambeth has more potholes? Or that they fail to carry out proper checks that payments were justified?
Such a possibility of imperfection seem to be entirely discounted at Lambeth Town Hall. They merely say that their figures “appear” much larger. They show little curiosity about the possibility that the appearance might to some extent reflect the reality of poor management.