Jonathan Werran 03 April 2013

Councils criticised for making staff sign 'gagging orders'

Some 256 local authorities have signed more than 4,000 ‘gagging orders’ to prevent former staff speaking out, a Freedom of Information campaigner has revealed.

Research undertaken by Paul Cardin, a whistle-blowing former employee at Cheshire West and Chester Council shows the number of confidentiality agreements signed between council employers and staff increased nearly sixfold from 179 in 2005 to 1,027 in 2010.

In all some 4,562 compromise agreements, many of which customarily contain confidentiality clauses, have been signed with former staff, Cardin’s survey discovered.

Brighton and Hove City Council was recorded as the most prolific authority, signing 123 agreements with exiting staff, followed closely by Bristol City Council, which signed 121 and Coventry City Council with 114.

Kent CC has made 95 agreements, including one for former managing director Katherine Kerswell who received a £420,000 settlement to leave after less than two years in the job.

Kerswell is now director of civil service reform at the Cabinet Office, and a separate survey undertaken by The Daily Telegraph has uncovered Whitehall departments spent around £14m on similar agreements with more than 200 civil servants.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles criticised councils for a culture of making ‘departing staff sign gagging orders, often with big pay-offs attached, away from the eyes of those who get left with the bill: the taxpayer’.

‘When leaving a job, councils and their employees need to part ways fairly,’ said Pickles. ‘By shining a light on these activities and introducing new democratic checks and balances to stop gagging orders being abused we are helping councils improve accountability in local government.’

Shadow Cabinet Office spokesman, Jon Trickett, said: ‘It is rank hypocrisy, minaters are telling others to stop doing something which is rife in Whitehall.'

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