East Devon councillors demand answers on £205,000 gagging orders

PUBLISHED: 15:31 23 November 2018

Gagging orders are often referred to as confidentiality clauses and are usually agreed when an employee leaves an employer due to redundancy, a work place problem or a disagreement. Picture: Alex Walton.

Gagging orders are often referred to as confidentiality clauses and are usually agreed when an employee leaves an employer due to redundancy, a work place problem or a disagreement. Picture: Alex Walton.

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Independent councillors are demanding answers after it was revealed East Devon District Council spent more than £205,000 on gagging orders between 2014 and 2018.

There were 10 gagging orders issued by the council between 2014 and October 31, 2018, costing the taxpayer £205,074.

Gagging orders are often referred to as confidentiality clauses and are usually agreed when an employee leaves an employer due to redundancy, a work place problem or a disagreement.

Independent councillors are ‘determined’ to seek information about the claimed justification for the expenditure.

Independent Group Leader Ben Ingham said: “Two of Lord Nolan`s seven principles of public life are openness and transparency. Anything that undermines those democratic principles is not in the public interest. Therefore gagging orders run against the grain.

“When any one of us is thinking about how we can afford to pay our latest Council Tax bill, I do not believe we would expect one penny to be spent on gagging orders.

“The public - who we serve - are fully entitled to be shocked and angry about how the Conservatives at EDDC are using their hard earned money.”

Cllr Ian Thomas, Leader of East Devon District Council, said: “Following an article published by an East Devon media outlet [Exmouth Journal] this week about settlement agreements between the district council and its employees, the Council wants to bring a greater degree of clarity to the headline-grabbing story.

“The article ignores the actual reasons why the council has used settlement agreements from time to time and that these are common practice in both the public and private sector where employers wish to bring employment to an end.

“The Council has used settlement agreements to terminate the contracts of 10 individuals since 2014 for a mixture of contractual, performance and sickness issues.

“The reason that any employer enters into these agreements is particularly in circumstances where it wishes to bring employment to an end quickly and pragmatically to avoid unnecessary costs and to protect itself from tribunal costs. The figures quoted include statutory and contractual payments such as holiday and notice periods.

“Such agreements are commonly used throughout the UK and the primary reason is that the individual is required to agree not to take their employer to court. The agreements also contain a confidentiality clause.”

Exmouth cllr Megan Armstrong said: “This is an appalling misuse of a huge amount of taxpayers` money which should have been used to provide services for the people of East Devon.

“The Council has a responsibility to be open, transparent and accountable, and to use taxpayers` money wisely. Yet over £200,000 has been used to suppress information.”

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