Controversial pay-offs to local authority staff in region have topped £8m
- Credit: Archant
More than £8m of public money has been used to pay off departing council staff in our region, partly to help end disputes and ensure former workers do not take legal action.
Since 2009, councils in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire have used controversial compromise or settlement agreements, which include confidentiality clauses, almost 500 times, with staff receiving £8.2m.
And the agreements are still being used – despite communities secretary Eric Pickles last year blasting what he described as 'under-the-counter pay-offs' to silence departing staff.
Council bosses defended the agreements, saying they were often the best way for staff to depart.
In compromise agreements, staff get a severance payment and agree to not make a claim against their former employer at a tribunal, while the confidentiality element stops them speaking out against their former bosses.
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The largest compromise agreement package in our region was just over £136,000 – paid in April last year by Great Yarmouth Borough Council, following the departure of managing director Richard Packham. He was one of 58 employees with whom the council has agreed packages.
A council spokesman said: 'These agreements enable a swift and dignified exit to the employment relationship, avoid time, cost and stress to both parties in a tribunal claim, and they often include the provision of employment references.
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'They also provide certainty to the council as it aims to resolve all or any outstanding disputes and to prevent future claim against the council.'
So-called 'gagging orders' have been banned in the NHS and Mr Pickles said last year: 'When leaving a job, councils and their employees need to part ways fairly. Giving out thousands in under-the-counter pay-offs to silence departing staff is not the way to achieve this.'
Norfolk County Council, which spent £191,900 on 16 compromise agreements, said: 'The content of these documents primarily relates to securing an obligation from the employee around their intention to make claims to the employment tribunal.
'These agreements tend to include a confidentiality term which works both ways (employer and employee obligations) around the terms of the agreement but we are in no position, legally, to compromise away an individual's ability to whistleblow should they believe there are practices going on in the council which need to be challenged.'
• PAYMENTS MADE
(Number of compensation agreements in brackets)
Breckland: £15,000 (1)
Broadland: £17,909 (3)
Cambridgeshire: £402,685 (41)
Great Yarmouth: £1,761,240 (58)
Norfolk: £191,900 (16)
North Norfolk: £74,834 (10)
Norwich: £151,900 (9)
South Norfolk: £236,316 (16)
Suffolk: £2,981,954 (242)
Waveney: £87,980 (5)
West Norfolk: £2,283,939 (77)
Total: £8,205,657 (478)