Local Democracy Weekly: Nobody speak – Councils rack up £4m gagging orders bill

Authorities say they are used to deal with workplace problems, while others claim they are used to buy silence. Either way, gagging orders have proved to be a controversial practice.

Councils and businesses use the orders, called settlement agreements in legal terms, with staff facing redundancy or workplace issues.

But the orders often come with conditions, such as keeping the employee from bringing a claim against their employer.

This week, it was revealed that Greater Lincolnshire authorities spent an eye watering £4 million on issuing the agreements.

Lincolnshire County Council topped the list, clocking a total of £1,382,300 in payouts since 2014.

The county’s head of paid service Debbie Barnes was quick to point out that the orders were used “infrequently,” after issuing 46 agreements over five years

Similarly, a spokesperson for South Kesteven District Council defended their figure of £521,190 which they said reflected a “senior management restructure”.

The orders have proved controversial with other councils in the past.

Chair of the public accounts committee in 2014, Meg Hilier, raised concerns over the use of the orders by councils after it was revealed more than 17,500 deals had been reached since 2010.

She said there can be “no excuse for silencing people who have legitimate concerns” and called on the government to monitor the use of the agreements.

But councils have maintained that the settlements can be a “cost effective” way of dealing with employment issues and can avoid legal costs.

Only those who receive the orders will know the reason for the settlements.