Concerns have been raised about an £18.7m overtime bill being generated by Belfast City Council.
In the past four financial years overtime payments have rocketed to £18,748,167, an average of £1,953 a year for each employee.
Figures released following a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper show the council, which is the largest local authority in Northern Ireland with 2,400 workers and an annual budget of around £140m, has been forking out millions of pounds of ratepayers’ money to supplement staff shortages.
The four-year sum would be enough to pay for 1,247 more street cleaners, 1,168 park rangers or 643 extra building control surveyors.
The health and environmental services department, which includes dog wardens, pest control and noise control, had the highest overtime costs for all four years — with £8,081,874 being spent since April 1, 2007.
The parks and leisure department, which has responsibility for control and management of Belfast Castle, Malone House and Belfast Zoo, had the second highest bill — £6,578,417.3 for the four years.
It is thought some of the lower paid staff from both departments have been doubling their salary because of the amount of overtime being accrued.
“The figure appears to be staggeringly high and it clearly arises out of service delivery,” said the DUP’s Gavin Robinson.
“There is some comfort from the fact it is decreasing, although I will be calling for a forensic audit of overtime, who is getting it, what it is paid for and how it relates to existing vacancies.
“At the heart of all of this is value for money. With an overtime bill so large it is not possible to see where value for money is being delivered at present.”
There has not been any formal recruitment freeze, however sources in the council have said officials have been ‘monitoring vacancies’, meaning some staff are not being replaced if they leave.
Mr Robinson added: “In the past the council has focused on the figure of 2,400 staff and wanted to maintain that level, even though it has led to increasing levels of overtime.”
Last month Belfast councillors approved a request to employ additional staff at Roselawn Crematorium after a report found employees were regularly required to work overtime and agency workers were used to supplement levels, generating a bill of almost £120,000 over the past two years.
As part of its response to the FoI request, Belfast City Council said: “Belfast City Council is the significantly largest council in Northern Ireland, responsible for delivering a range of services.
“To meet our responsibilities we employ approximately 2,400 employees. We have staff at over 100 locations. We provide a range of services, from street cleaning to pest control, from tourism development to provision of public conveniences.”
The council does not operate a centralised policy on overtime as operational working practices vary in accordance with the individual demands of the service.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said: “Belfast City Council's 2,400 employees provide an extensive range of services.
Providing services is not a nine-to-five job, as it requires staff to work outside normal hours.
The council is currently undertaking a detailed analysis of all its employee costs. We will work with our elected members and trade unions to develop options, which may include the recruitment of more staff.”
Contractual overtime — may occur if, for operational and service delivery reasons, employees are required to work a specified amount of overtime as part of their normal hours. Planned overtime — includes out-of-hours payments to cover specific work that takes place outside normal working hours.
Ad hoc overtime — arises where additional cover is required to ensure that normal day-to-day activity continues.