More than £1m spent on Norfolk and Suffolk council staff pay-outs which included gagging orders
More than £1m of taxpayers' money has been used on pay-offs accompanied by gagging orders to departing council staff in the past two years.
Since 2016, councils in Norfolk and Suffolk have used settlement agreements, which include confidentiality clauses, more than 70 times.
That is despite the government having made clear such agreements should only be used in 'extreme circumstances', but council say they avoid costly legal action.
Where settlement agreements are signed, staff get a severance payment and agree not to make a claim against their former employer at a tribunal, while the confidentiality element stops them speaking out against their former bosses.
The figures were revealed using the Freedom Of Information Act. The councils refused to provide details of who had been subject to settlement agreements.
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Norfolk County Council, which has been making millions of pounds of cuts and savings, used settlement agreements 17 times in the two-year period.
The £358,393 paid out to those ex-staff members was the biggest bill associated with the settlement agreements in the region.
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A county council spokesman said: 'The council only uses such compromise agreements as a last resort, to resolve employment issues promptly, without incurring further expenditure.
'Each year's payments constitute less than 0.09 per cent of the council's annual £245.5 million bill for employee costs.'
But Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council, said: 'I have met with the managing director and have asked for further detail on these settlement agreements.
'The public will be rightly concerned about whether this has been the best use of council tax payers money.'
County Hall's recently-published accounts also revealed it cost of £3.1m to make 257 staff redundant in 2017/18, an increase on the previous year's £2.8m.
A spokesman said: 'A number of service reorganisations have taken place which had led to redundancies. The redundancy costs are more than offset by the savings made.'
'Redundancies only take place once a member of staff has had an opportunity to seek redeployment to another post, subject to suitable opportunities being available.'
Settlement agreements from 2016 to 2018
(number of settlement agreements in brackets)
Breckland: £31,500 (did not reveal number)
Broadland: Did not reveal figure (1)
Great Yarmouth: £56,001 (4)
Norfolk: £358,393 (17)
North Norfolk: £77,667 (5)
Norwich: £44,100 (5)
South Norfolk: £27,119 (4)
Suffolk: £358,049 (21)
Suffolk Coastal and Waveney: £95,675 (6)
West Norfolk: £102,075 (11)
Total: £1,150,579 (70)