Councils 'issue thousands of gagging orders'

Councils have issued thousands of "gagging orders" to former staff as part of their payoffs, according to reports.

Between 2010 and 2015, councils signed 17,571 settlement deals with ex-employees worth a total of £226.7m, many of which included confidentiality clauses.

In 2014, the Public Accounts Select Committee criticised the use of gagging orders in the public sector, saying they had been used to cover-up failure and pay-off individuals who had brought up concerns.

The BBC, which obtained the figures through Freedom of Information requests, said staff often received a better payoff in return for signing the agreements but it is unclear how much this is costing the taxpayer because the data includes entitlements under normal terms and conditions.

The City of Cardiff Council issued the most agreements at 2,008, resulting in payouts of £5.5m. The council said the settlements protected it from legal claims and had encouraged more staff to take voluntary redundancy. It stopped using the agreements in January 2015.

A spokesman for DCLG said confidentiality clauses should not "stop, stifle or control individuals from speaking out about concerns about their employer" and there is no excuse for "outrageous payoffs" when the public sector is trying to find savings.

The LGA said enhanced payments are only made in "extreme circumstances" and that local authorities are one of the most efficient parts of the public sector when it comes to calculating payoffs.