AN ongoing investigation into officer misconduct at Cheshire East Council is set to cost taxpayers £720,000 over 12 months.

An internal email to members suggests that £456,000 had been spent on the investigation up to November 2017.

Since April 2017, three senior members of the CEC officer hierarchy have been suspended by the investigation and disciplinary committee – chief executive Mike Suarez, chief operating officer Peter Bates and director of legal services and monitoring officer Bill Norman, who has since resigned.

As well as paying external investigators, CEC has had to pay the suspended officers and temporary replacements.

It is thought that the total cost of the investigation for the 2017/18 financial year could come to around £720,000.

The email to councillors disclosed that external investigators and temporary staffing costs made up £110,000 of the total up to November – the remainder being used to pay those suspended.

In a statement, CEC leader Cllr Rachel Bailey said: “It is important that Cheshire East Council deals with concerns about senior officer conduct responsibly. The investigation and disciplinary committee has made decisions to suspend certain officers while investigations into concerns about officer conduct continue.

“Clearly, we need to minimise the risk of these suspensions leading to any reduction in service delivery and ensure that the organisation meets its statutory responsibilities. This means making alternative management arrangements, including appointing to interim or ‘acting’ roles.

“As we have said before, suspension is a neutral act and we have a legal responsibility to continue to pay officers suspended while investigations are completed. This comes at a cost – but it is the responsible thing to do.”

Spending is forecast at £720,000 in 2017/18, broken down as £50,000 in external costs, £160,000 in ‘interim costs re investigation’, and £510,000 in ‘acting up costs to cover suspension’.

Cllr Bailey said: “In the public conversation about these matters, there has been speculation regarding ‘pay offs’ or severance packages. With regard to the director of legal services and monitoring officer, who resigned in December, I can confirm that there has been no pay off.”