THE leader of the Lib Dems at Suffolk County Council has called for a panel to be set up after a massive increase in ‘gagging’ payouts to staff.
Cllr Kathy Pollard said she was concerned but not surprised after it emerged that £405,000 had been spent in just four months, paying departing staff so they did not criticise the council.
That figure compared to £520,000 for the whole of last year, while three years ago the council was spending roughly £100,000 a year on the staff compromise agreements.
“Questions need to be asked as to why it has suddenly shot up.
“We suspected that it would be high because we had a director and assistant director suddenly depart and we guessed there would be a large payment to both of those.
“Before, three years ago the council was spending £100,000 a year if that on these.
“It is meant to stop people speaking out when they are asked to leave, so they leave quietly. The big issue is that the council is making massive cuts to services including school crossing patrols – we still don’t know entirely if they will be saved – and libraries. The amount could actually pay for the community meals subsidy for the whole year.
You have to ask where the county council’s priorities lie. It is just another example of how they waste money.”
She said in five years the amount spend on the top management team – people on more than £50,000 a year – had soared from £6 million a year, to £16 million.
A BT Contract to provide the council’s customer service direct meanwhile is likely to be around £147 million over budget – the 10 year contract was meant to cost £300 million, Cllr Pollard said.
She said she was not against the staff compromise deals ‘but you have to question why the amount has shot up so much in the last few years’.
She added that a human resources panel should be set up to oversee any future payouts.
Interim leader of the council Jane Storey said: “Some of the money that is included in the figures is pay in lieu of notice.
“There is money included in the agreements that is contractual.”
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Suffolk County Council does everything it can to keep employment-related costs to a minimum.
“Such agreements are used sparingly and almost always include items such as pay in lieu of notice.
“This is a cost an employer would incur in any case - whether in one lump sum or over a period of someone’s employment.
“These cases represent a tiny proportion of our overall workforce.
“As part of the council’s budget savings, the overall cost of employing council staff is being reduced.”
When asked who had responsibility for signing off the payments, he said: “In the same way that we can’t give information about who the payments are given to we take the view that we can’t give information about who authorises them.”
The figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request.
The county council has been under fire over the £218,000 salary paid to its chief executive Andrea Hill who has been asked to remain on leave while complaints involving whistle blowing are investigated.