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Westminster Council spends £1.56m ‘gagging’ departing staff

Council says system is 'standard practice' but union chiefs call agreements 'deplorable'

31 August, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Onay Kasab believes council services money is being used to pay off staff

WESTMINSTER Council has been slammed for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds buying the silence of senior managers and staff.

A Freedom of Information request has found that £1.56million was spent on 58 gagging orders in the past four years.

Last year, £380,000 was spent on 13 non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that ensure departing employees cannot speak out about their time at the council.

The Unite union is campaigning against the widespread use of NDAs that it says are “very, very common” but “should be strongly deplored”.

Regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We strongly believe that local authorities are setting money aside that should be used for vital, currently underfunded, services, such as social care. We don’t believe this is the proper use of public money.

“Generally the majority of local authority staff are being required to sign such orders even when being made redundant and not having gone through any prior complaint, grievance or disciplinary process. We need to highlight this very worrying development across councils in the UK. In the redundancy cases, it stops staff speaking out about the impact of job losses on services which is in the public interest.”

He added that local authorities “often assess a case on financial terms – how much will it take to settle a case, along with a gagging clause, rather than dealing with the underlying issue?” He added: “A gagging order is the easiest cop-out option.”

The figures, obtained by the Left Foot Forward website, can be compared with the £2.4million revealed this week to have been spent by the House of Commons on 53 ex- employees in the past five years. The Commons gagging orders sparked a national debate this week about the clauses. There has also been an outcry about victims of the Windrush scandal signing NDAs in return for fast-tracked compensation.

A BBC investigation in 2016 found that, collectively, UK councils spent more than £200million on settlement agreements, most of which included gagging orders.

Westminster Labour said the council should do more to show that the NDAs are value for money and that people had a right to know publicly funded employees’ criticisms.

A statement issued by Westminster Council said: “These payments are standard practice as they allow redundancies and other departures to be processed quickly and in a dignified manner. They are by mutual consent and it is always the choice of the employee to sign these settlements, based on advice from either a solicitor or a trade union official. The majority of the compensation provided is typically redundancy pay or pay in lieu of notice.”

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