COUNCIL bosses have spent £8.3m of taxpayers’ cash on secret “gagging orders” to stop axed employees from blowing the whistle on scandals.
Councils across Scotland spent the money in “settlement agreements”, which give former workers a large payout if they do not take their former employers to a tribunal or criticise them publically.
Under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation all 32 councils across Scotland were asked how many staff had been awarded such agreements since 2010.
Only 20 of the councils gave full returns – but theirs revealed that the staggering £8.3m figure was paid out to just 748 employees – an average of around £11k each.
The biggest payouts came from Dundee Council – which awarded £2.2m to 247 staff over the five year period.
Clackmannanshire came in second place, doling £1.9m out to 97 staff.
Shetlands Islands Council spent £841,593 on just 37 staff – an average of £22,756 each.
Meanwhile Glasgow gave £802,906 to 107 employees. North Ayrshire gave £748,768 to 119 recipients and Stirling spent £402,787 on 21 members of staff.
Those councils who failed to provide the information claimed that it would be against “data protection” laws to release it, and some even claimed they did not know how much had been paid out.
Aberdeen Council said that it was “contrary to the public interest” to disclose the information.
If the payouts at the councils that did not provide the information are as high as those who provided it, it is estimated that the real figure could be as high as £15.6m paid out to 1,400 staff.
Eben Wilson of Taxpayer Scotland added: “It’s not right that councils are still using these payments to protect themselves.
“Council taxpayers are in essence the shareholders of the collective services that councils provide.
“Officials need to be totally transparent in their operations, and if that means being honest about mistakes and other failings then so be it.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “We are supposed to be living in a time of increased transparency when it comes to public services.
“There is a particular concern just now among people about the treatment of whistleblowers across all services.”
A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) defended the move, saying that the agreements could benefit both parties.
He said: “Authorities use settlement agreements in particular circumstances where, by mutual consent, the employee will leave the organisation.
“It effectively concludes the working relationship by closing off any potential outstanding issues…which might, potentially, have cost implications for the council and by extension the public. purse.”
A Dundee Council spokesman claimed the settlement agreements are used as part of its voluntary early retirement and voluntary redundancy schemes.
He said: “As part of that policy, individuals receive independent legal advice prior to signing the agreement.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that the responsibility for overseeing such agreements was with the local authorities themselves.
He added: “Local authorities are under a legal duty to use resources as efficiently as possible.”