Council legal bill reaches near £300,000

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Craigavon Borough Council spent a whopping £300,000 on legal fees in the last financial year (2013-14), thought to be one of the highest in its 41-year history.

The total was unearthed by Alderman Arnold Hatch after he commented on the £10,000 fees presented in the monthly accounts, around 70 per cent of which was the result of HR (staffing) matters. It’s thought the current year’s fees (2014-15) have shot well into six figures.

“It has all spiralled out of control,” said Mr Hatch. “Of course, a body as big as the borough council will have legal costs. But over the years – with so many staffing grievances – the bills have rocketed. I have asked for the comparative figures over the past number of years.

“The recent council exercise of putting the legal aspect out to tender has, I believe, increased the costs. I am calling for a belt-tightening exercise as we move into the era of the ABC Council.”

Mr Hatch is meeting with the finance department for a total assessment of costs – including the tendering process, the staff grievances over the past number of years, and how they were handled by the council.

The exact costs for 2013-14 (April to March), Mr Hatch pointed out, were £294,832. And he is asking whether this is full value for money and whether many of the staffing issues could have been settled “without going to litigation at the drop of a hat”.

He went on, “There has been a number of high-profile cases that could, and should, have been settled in-house.

“This massive bill is, at the end of the day, met by the ratepayers, and while much of it cannot be avoided on the day-to-day running of the council, there must be a re-assessment.”

Councillor Joe Nelson said, “It certainly seems a high figure and I agree a full assessment is required as we move into the new ABC Council. It will be interesting to hear what the figures have been over the years.”