Northumberland County Council spends millions on 'non-disclosure contract terminations'

Coun Georgina Hill, the independent member for Berwick East.Coun Georgina Hill, the independent member for Berwick East.
Coun Georgina Hill, the independent member for Berwick East.
Northumberland County Council has spent more than £1.1million on ‘gagging agreements’ for staff who have left the authority since May 2017.

Plus, in 2018, membership fees and associated costs across a range of bodies had a total bill to the council of £462,000.

These figures were revealed at Wednesday’s (February 20) full council meeting, where cuts of £12.8million for 2019-20 were approved, in response to two questions from Coun Georgina Hill, the independent ward member for Berwick East.

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She first asked what the council spent in 2018 on its membership of national and regional bodies which offer advice, information, training and similar membership services.

Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, replied that this figure was £462,000 across 80 organisations, ranging from £45 to £60,224.

The latter figure relates to the Local Government Association (LGA), which has a ‘significant’ benefit in terms of ‘advice, benchmarking and other similar services’, while membership of NEREO (North East Regional Employers’ Organisation) costs £31,824, although a figure larger than this is saved in advertising costs through using its recruitment portal, Coun Oliver explained.

He added: “It’s a long list and many of these subscriptions are legal requirements or offer additional benefits, for example, procurement savings and shared procurement services.”

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Coun Hill’s second question related to the amount on money spent ‘on staff compromise agreements, often dubbed gagging agreements’, since May 1, 2017, and on those agreements between May 1, 2013, and May 1, 2017.

Coun Oliver said the figure for non-disclosure contract terminations since May 1, 2017, is £1,135,718, with another £1.1million approximately spent between 2013 and 2017.

Expanding on this issue, he said: “Contract termination agreements or compromise agreements, I think there’s a difference between them and gagging agreements.

“The agreements that this authority enters into do often include a non-disclosure clause, but they’re not non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), they’re compromise agreements.

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“Often there is a need to deal with an employee of the council in an equitable, quick and fair way for both sides and sometimes that means reaching a compromise.”

He also referred to recent figures reporting that Sunderland City Council had spent £16million on NDAs with £35million spent across the North East, suggesting that Northumberland is ‘down towards the bottom of the table’.

Coun Hill followed up by asking if this type of six-figure agreement adds to public cynicism of local government, with Coun Oliver responding that these had to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service