£500k town hall bill to ‘buy silence’ ex-employees

Blackpool Town Hall
Blackpool Town Hall
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Town hall bosses have spent more than £500,000 of public money on agreements with former staff to end disputes and avoid legal action in the past two years, The Gazette can reveal.

Since 2012, at least 43 compromise agreements have been signed by former Blackpool Council employees as part of a deal struck when they left the authority.

In the last financial year, 35 such deals – which the council says include confidentiality agreements as standard – were signed following employment disputes, at a cost of £330,000. In 2012/13, £188,000 was spent on 18 of the agreements.

The figures, released following a Freedom of Information request, do not include deals that were purely redundancy-related.

Sean Gibson, regional organiser for Unison, said: “Given the fact Blackpool Council is proposing a pay freeze for staff for two years, it does seem an exorbitant amount of money.”

He said the orders can serve a legitimate purpose but the number involving ex-Blackpool council staff appeared to be “excessive”.

Council chiefs said the agreements – used to encourage staff to take redundancy where the council cannot le-gally enforce it and is seeking a quick resolution – avoid the risk of potentially costly legal action.

An FOI response from last year shows the use of compromise agreements has risen steeply since 2007, when just six were signed. The total cost since 2007 is now more than £1m.

Mr Gibson added: “I question why there’s a necessity for these orders. In general they are used when something has escalated up the chain and hasn’t been dealt with properly.”

But Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “There are rare occasions we have a dispute with an employee that cannot be resolved. To avoid what could be a lengthy and expensive employment tribunal an agreement is reached which minimises any potential risk to the council’s budget.

“A standard condition of any compromise agreement is a confidentially clause which has to be agreed to by both parties. As a public body the vast majority of our business is public information and can be easily accessed and requested.

“However, there are always going to be matters relating to individuals whether that is residents, businesses or employees that remain confidential.”

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