Rise in UK council workers abusing technology at work

According to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by BBC Radio 5 live, the number of UK council workers suspended for breaking social media rules has risen.

The response revealed that over 51 workers were suspended for committing offences such as viewing pornographic content or posting offensive comments online.

However, the exact figure is not clear because a number of councils did not specify how many of their employees had been punished for such behaviour and not all councils included school staff in their replies.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA) said: "Councils are clear that while some personal use of social media at work is acceptable, it must be reasonable and appropriate in terms of both the time spent and the content.

"The vast majority of council employees abide by that. Councils take very seriously any misuse and, as these figures show, will deal robustly with cases that are unacceptable."

A total of 169 councils provided data in response to the FoI request, while 22 local authorities directly refused the request and 27 did not respond.

The information showed that 114 council staff were issued with warnings about breaching social media guidelines last year, a four per cent decline compared to 2014. However, because a higher proportion of staff were forced to take time off as a result, there was a 19 per cent rise in the number of suspensions.

The request also revealed a 27 per cent decline in the number of council staff suspended for accessing pornographic sites, compared to the previous year.

The FoI request uncovered: St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council suspended the largest number of workers. It said it took action against seven people over the period, several for offences involving Facebook, but did not provide details of the circumstances; East Riding of Yorkshire Council said it suspended two teachers for befriending pupils on Facebook, among other issues. In one case, it said, the teacher had attempted to arrange a meeting with the child via the social network; Swindon Borough Council said it suspended a worker for making threatening comments towards a colleague on Facebook; Leeds Council took action against two employees over racial comments they had made online; East Renfrewshire Council suspended an employee for the inappropriate use of its official Twitter account; Cheshire West and Chester Council took action against a worker who posted rude messages about the public on Facebook while on duty; Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council said one worker had been made to take six days off for posting an inappropriate photo on an unnamed site; and Luton Borough Council, Norfolk County Council and Newport City Council all confirmed that they had dismissed workers following their suspensions, while Milton Keynes Council said a suspended worker had opted to resign.