The increasing use of gagging orders to stifle discussion of controversial matters by local councils is becoming a major concern to anti-corruption campaigners.
Richard Barrington, director of Transparency International UK, said: “Our research shows that the anti-corruption controls in local government have been steadily eroded and the ability of staff to speak out about suspicions or malpractice is now one of the crucial remaining defences against corruption.”
He continued: “If staff are silenced by gagging orders, it increases the risk that we will; wake up in five or ten years to find that corruption has taken root in local government, and at that point, it will be much harder to eradicate.”
Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chairwoman, the Labour MP, Meg Hillier, suggested the agreements could be used to prevent whistle blowing by concerned council staff.
She said: “If an employee is being told they can’t talk abouit something and bought off, that’s not an acceptable use of these settlement agreements.”
In the north east of England, the Labour council in Sunderland has frequently used such gagging orders or “confidentiality agreements” in many employment contracts (the highest in the region, apparently.)
Just what are they so keen to hide?