As of the 30th June 2016 Shepway District Council placed their unaudited accounts for 2015/16 online.
We would like to draw your attention to page 79 of the accounts and especially the exit packages. These include all confidentiality clauses or more commonly called gagging orders.
In 2014/15 SDC paid 12 exit packages totaling the grand sum of £247,000.
In 2015/16 SDC paid 16 exit packages totaling the grand sum of £451,000.
This a 82.59% increase paid out to keep people quiet.
Cllr Claire Jeffrey (L) East Folkestone Ward was a former employee of SDC and received an exit package/gagging order when she left SDC in 2010/11.
What are gagging orders?
Gagging orders are better known in legal terms as confidentiality clauses. They are usually agreed when an employee leaves an employer, having been made redundant or after a disagreement or issue in the workplace.
How do they work?
The employer asks the employee to sign a compromise agreement, under which they waive their right to legal action. This could be in the form of a claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal or a claim for breach of contract.
According to employment lawyers, most compromise agreements also include confidentiality clauses. These bar employees from talking publicly or to the press about their former employer of the circumstances under which they left.
They can be far-reaching, barring an individual from even speaking to their spouse about the issue. One council barred an employee from making freedom of information or data protection requests.
Why do people sign them?
In return for signing the agreement and remaining silent, the employee is usually given a lump sum. Barry Warne, head of employment at HLW Keeble Hawson, said: “The employee is being bought off, often with more than his claim is really worth. It is the price of silence.”
Why is it so controversial?
Under the terms of the Public Interest Disclosure act, whistleblowers are supposed to be protected. However, many believe that gagging orders have a “deterrent effect”. “Employers can’t sign away the right to whistleblow, but many people think they can,” said Mr Warne.
Mr Warne believes the agreements should not be used in the public sector, except for matters of national security. “Everything in the public sector should be public information,” he said.
What happens if people breach their agreement?
An employee could face demands for the return of the severance payment or be sued for damages in the High Court.
Now our public face has FOIed SDC for the names of people who got the exit packages/gagging orders, now they said, sorry can’t tell you who or how much each individual received and applied s40(2)(– exemption for personal data – whether first data protection principle would be contravened by disclosure) of the FOI Act 2000, so gave him totals only.
However, SDC have abused their position because the Information Commissioners Office, who oversee FOI, have said in their decision notices
Para 21. “In the circumstances of this request, the Commissioner has identified that the principal item of information that the request appears to seek is the compensation payments provided to the individual after their departure from the council’s employment. This individual was formerly a senior officer within the council, and the council has confirmed that the compensation payments are to be included in the council’s public accounts, as required by law. On this basis of this, the Commissioner considers that the exemption provided by section 40(2) does not apply.”
Therefore if the exit packages/ gagging orders appear in the accounts we the residents of Shepway can know the name of the person who received a package and the amount, not just the totals SDC have posted in their accounts. We hope they will change this.