A dramatic headline in the East Anglian Daily Times relating payments by Suffolk County Council to former employees reads: “£500,000 to silence disgruntled staff”. The article below starts:
County council chiefs have been criticised for using more than £500,000 of public money to silence disgruntled employees.
Suffolk County Council has spent a total of £521,277 on gagging orders over the last 12 months to ensure staff don’t whistle-blow once their contracts have been terminated.
That figure is almost double what the organisation spent on “compromise agreements” during 2008 and 2009 and comes just months after sweeping cuts, including the axing the entire £230,000 budget for school crossing patrols as well as a number of bus services. The data, obtained following a Freedom of Information Request, revealed that during 2010 a total of 41 council employees were given Compromise Agreements ranging in payments of between £2,000 and £60,000.
But I am not sure this is entirely fair on the council. Compromise agreements are often made when an employee is disputing dismissal, and starts the process towards taking a former employer to an Industrial Tribunal.
If is often cheaper, and less time-consuming, for the former employer to make a settlement than to go to the tribunal. The compromise agreement system was explained in a recent article in Personnel Today.
While these agreements usually include a “confidentiality clause” that is not generally the prime purpose. The employee is likely to see them as compensation for loss of earnings etc.
A doubling of the number of such agreements at SCC does raise questions about the efficiency of the human relations department. But to categorise the payments as “gagging orders” is only partly true.