Blackpool Council shells out £1.3m in compensation claims - including potholes

Road problems count for one in gour council compensation claims
Road problems count for one in gour council compensation claims

Compensation claims totalling more than £1.3m have been paid out by Blackpool Council in the last two years, according to figures revealed today.

Research shows 214 claims cost the authority £706,085 in 2013/14, while in 2014/15 there were 224 claims totalling £648,107.

Blackpool taxi drivers highlight one of the potholes on the promenade. From left, Frank Landini, Steve Buckley, Bill Lewtas and Laurence Hunt

Blackpool taxi drivers highlight one of the potholes on the promenade. From left, Frank Landini, Steve Buckley, Bill Lewtas and Laurence Hunt

A major trigger for claims was potholes in the road and issues with the footway which sparked 60 successful claims in 2014/15.

The highest payout that year was £40,000 in relation to car park equipment, while at the other end of the scale some of the sums were less than £100.

Potholes and footways also featured in the 2013/14 figures when the biggest payout was £56,417 in relation to a fire.

Town hall chiefs say, while paying compensation takes money away from public services, recent measures such as the Project 30 road improvement scheme have helped bring costs down.

Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council said: “The law regarding liability and compensation is in place for a reason and if the council is culpable then it is only right that we pay the correct level of damages.

“Of course, that money comes out of the public purse and makes it more difficult for us to run some of the important local services that people in Blackpool access.

“We’ve taken on some very proactive measures to reduce compensation claims in recent years.

“Schemes like Project 30 have invested serious money into fixing the roads, which in turn mean we receive fewer highways related claims and have to pay out less often.”

But he warned against comparing the costs incurred by different local authorities.

“He added: “Comparing our figures with other councils however is like comparing apples and oranges.

“Whilst we deal with compensation claims in-house, other authorities have a tendency to refer their claims to different private insurance companies and use very different reporting methods.

“This may exclude many of their costs and results in wildly varying figures from authority to authority. This study is not a comparison that reflects the reality of compensation costs in different areas.”

But Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said: “While the year on year totals have reduced, this is still an enormous amount of money for such a small authority.

“I presume the majority of the claims will be for trips and falls which might indicate the half tarmac - half flagstone £30m Project 30 scheme has not delivered the results promised.”

Figures for Fylde and Wyre are much lower - also largely because they are not the highways authority.

In 2013/14, nine claims were settled against Wyre Council totalling £13,070, with the cost jumping to £27,932 in 2014/15 when there were 10 claims including £10,000 paid out in the form of employer’s liability for an incident described as “hand arm vibration”.

Fylde settled no claims in 2014/15 but in 2013/14 it settled six claims at a cost of £19,851.

The chunk of that was £13,885 paid out due to a tripping incident in a public park.

Lancashire County Council, which is the highways authority for Fylde and Wyre, has settled claims totalling more than £3m in the last two years.

Lancashire’s other unitary authority Blackburn-with-Darwen paid out claims of just £62,754 in 2014/15.

A spokesman for Fylde Council said: “The annual figure is very low and we always fight claims very hard.

“We recognise some are fraudulent but many are justified and where that is the case we pay out.

“But we are not the highways authority and are not responsible for potholes which is the highest reason for claims.

“We have comprehensive insurance so if we do have to pay out, it is covered by that.”

A spokeswoman for Wyre Council said each claim it received was “robustly investigated and rigorously defended where appropriate.”

She added: “The payments range from £29 up to £10,000 dependant on the loss suffered.

“The council’s cost of insurance has reduced by 37 per cent over a six year period.”

Nationally the research shows more than £104m was paid out in compensation claims against local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales over 2013-14 and 2014-15, with more than 42,000 payments made.

Nearly £8m of that was in relation to potholes.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which caried out the research, 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 d 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.”

Colin Mahoney, founder of Lancashire-based streetrepairs.com, said reports to his website about pothole damage in the county have become more and more regular.

He said: “Pot holes and pot hole damage has become more and more apparent in the three years the site has been running.Without a shadow of a doubt going forward we’re going to see roads getting worse. The road infrastructure in this country is in a really bad state at the moment.

“Lancashire County Council is financially up against it, but if the problems are reported to them, then they can prioritise which are the most dangerous problems and mitigate their liabilities.

“If all local authorities embraced technology and engaged with the public, they would be more able to manage what little budget they’ve got and people won’t be exposed to injuries.”

Mr Mahoney said out of all local authorities he deals with, Lancashire County Council was the most pro-active in terms of responding to reports of road problems.