Fury over �200k gagging orders for council staff

COUNTY bosses were today accused of a cover-up after using more than �200,000 of public money to silence disgruntled employees.

COUNTY bosses were today accused of a cover-up after using more than �200,000 of public money to silence disgruntled employees.

Suffolk County Council has spent the cash on gagging orders over the last 18 months to ensure staff don't whistle-blow once their contracts have been terminated.

Three top-level managers are alleged to be among those who accepted payments in a “compromise agreement” after leaving in “mysterious” circumstances.

Critics claimed it was a “farcical” way to run a council, warning it could be used to bury information of a public interest.

But Sally Marlow, head of strategic human resources at Suffolk County Council, said the use of such agreements were the “exception, not the rule” and can actually save money.

Ironically, the payments - totalling �208,263 since January 1, 2008 - have been laid bare by one of its own councillors after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request.

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Andrew Cann, Liberal Democrat spokesman for finance and resources, felt compelled to speak out after getting wind of a number of alleged cloak-and-dagger occurrences in the corridors of power.

He said: “I heard that certain staff had disappeared ever so suddenly and the stories I heard was that they had done nothing wrong.

“I know at least two people at the highest level who have left under mysterious circumstances after signing gagging orders in the last two years.

“To see that Suffolk County Council is using �200,000 of public money - at a time of recession and service cuts - to cover up its own mistakes is shocking.”

Susie Squire, political director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “This is a farcical way to run a local council, and should be a genuine concern to taxpayers in Suffolk.”

The saga casts another shadow over Endeavour House after it was revealed last year that bosses had acted to prevent council members leaking important information which they believed to be in the public interest.

Mrs Marlow said: “Suffolk County Council follows the law in its use of compromise agreements.

“There are times when for a variety of reasons, it can be more cost efficient and cheaper for the taxpayer to use a compromise agreement to release staff.”

Should public money be used in this way? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk