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Anger as £500,000 of public money is used to silence Suffolk County Council staff

PUBLISHED: 11:27 16 February 2011 | UPDATED: 11:27 16 February 2011

SUFFOLK County council chiefs have been criticised for using more than £500,000 of public money to silence disgruntled employees.

The 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.

Between January, 2008, and September, 2009, the council spent £208,263 on the agreements and the steep rise has prompted fierce criticism.

County Councillor Kathy Pollard, leader of the Suffolk Liberal Democrats, said: “That is a huge amount of money to be paying staff simply over disagreements.

“There has to be a question mark over the council’s management style because clearly the problem is escalating and something needs to be done.

“This is really an unnecessary expense. Perhaps the council also needs to look more carefully about who they employ in the future.”

Emma Boon, a spokeswoman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, added: “Suffolk County Council should make a full explanation of why these payments were made so that they can be subject to public scrutiny.

“Departing staff shouldn’t need cash bungs to keep quiet about matters that are confidential for legal reasons; nor should the council be forking out to try to protect their own reputation and stop ex-staff airing dirty laundry.

“It is important that taxpayers’ money is not used to stop local residents knowing what their council is up to when they have a right to know.”

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Suffolk County Council does everything it can to keep employment-related costs to a minimum.

“Such agreements are used sparingly by the council and often include items like pay in lieu of notice which is a cost employers would normally bear.

“It’s important to recognise that these cases represent only around 0.1 per cent of our workforce.”

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