Scottish councils paid out £33m for compensation claims

A car drives past a pothole
Image caption Most claims involved vehicle accidents, trips on pavements or potholes and problems with housing

Scottish councils paid out more than £33m for compensation claims over the last five years, figures released after a Freedom of Information request show.

The figures, requested by the Scottish Tories, showed that £33.2m was spent settling 13,000 claims from 2007-2012.

The party said it suggested there was a "compensation culture" which was "spiralling out of control".

The council umbrella body Cosla accused the party of "opportunistic council bashing".

Its president, Councillor David O'Neill, said local authorities only paid compensation when instructed to do so by their lawyers.

The Conservatives' local government spokeswoman, Margaret Mitchell, said it was "neither sensible nor sustainable" for local authorities to be spending millions on compensation payments when public finances were being squeezed.

She said the payments were made over incidents ranging from the "very serious to the utterly ridiculous".

Settlements included a man in Edinburgh who claimed £170,000 because a firework blew up in his hand and a woman in Clackmannanshire who claimed £40 because grass-cutters damaged her garden gnomes.

A dog owner in East Dunbartonshire received £57 from the council after their pet's paws were covered in tar and a cyclist in Edinburgh was given £4,000 after being knocked off their bike by overhanging branches.

Of the local authorities which responded, Falkirk Council has paid out most, at about £6.7m, while claims cost Fife Council more than £5.2m over the period.

Edinburgh City Council spent just over £3.2m but at Glasgow City Council - Scotland's largest local authority - the cost was £665,000.

Across Scotland, the majority of claims involved vehicle accidents, trips on pavements or potholes and problems with council housing.

'Spurious claims'

Ms Mitchell said: "It is right when someone is injured, has their property damaged or is inconvenienced through no fault of their own, councils should pay up quickly and efficiently.

"However, the sheer amount of cash involved here really points to the compensation culture in which we live spiralling out of control.

"Councils must be given the appropriate legal support when people make spurious claims. Clearly, with budgets tight, it is neither sensible nor sustainable to be spending millions of pounds every year on incidents which, in many cases, are entirely avoidable."

The Conservatives claimed the true figure could be even higher as seven of Scotland's 32 councils did not respond to the request.

But Cllr O'Neill said: "The Conservative Party have certainly chosen to have Scotland's councils in their sights over the festive period. Here we have more opportunistic council bashing from them.

"They should perhaps remember that councils are made up of all political parties and as they returned an increased number of councillors in the May elections, they are having a pop at themselves to a large extent.

"The bottom line is that in the modern world we now occupy, there is far more of a compensation culture and people are often actively encouraged to pursue claims through no-win no-fee lawyers.

"However, that said, councils only pay compensation when they have been instructed to legally. They do not pay it willy-nilly and to suggest otherwise is both wrong and misleading."

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