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"Gagging order" figures revealed
EDUCATION bosses in York have spent more than £135,000 on “gagging orders” for school staff since 2007.
Over the past seven years, City of York Council signed 17 compromise agreements in educational institutions, all containing confidentiality clauses. In total 34 of the agreements were signed by the council, but they refuse to disclose the full cost.
The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that £135,169.68 was paid to school staff through these settlements.
The agreements have become known as gagging orders since they can often prevent staff voicing grievances, and can potentially silence whistleblowers.
Earlier this year the National Audit Office (NAO) said of the agreements: “the lack of transparency, consistency and accountability is unacceptable”. The NAO added that it was important the settlements “do not leave staff feeling gagged.”
Compromise agreements have become controversial after their part in alleged cover-ups in the NHS, and their use has since been banned by the Department of Health.
In the city’s schools one was signed with a current member of staff, which is rare.
Nine of the orders were in primary schools, five in secondary schools, and three in ‘other’ educational institutions. The highest individual pay-out was £28,000.
Coun Keith Aspden, leader of York Liberal Democrats, said: “There will be exceptional cases where the use of these agreements is required; however, councils have a responsibility to the public to ensure their use is not abused and they don't just become a way to buy the silence of departing staff. Costs need to be kept down and we need transparency wherever possible.
"I have asked for further information on these cases to see if the relevant guidelines are being followed."
Jill Hodges, assistant director of education and skills at the council, said: “Compromise agreements are a necessary tool in managing employment relationships and are only used in exceptional circumstances where there is a clear business case to do so.
“They can be used in a number of circumstances such as dismissals (including redundancy) or the early settlement of an Employment Tribunal. They are particularly used to help minimise potentially long, drawn-out processes before being able to terminate employment or where it can be mutually agreed that a termination of employment would be in everyone’s best interest.
“Compromise agreements are intended to give the council protection against employment tribunal claims and therefore protection against cost. The council will always seek to minimise the cost of any individual compromise agreement payment
“The council employs approximately 3,000 staff in its schools and the number of agreements used over the six year period is proportionate to a workforce of that size."