HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds have been spent on ‘gagging clauses’ signed by local public sector employers and their staff in the last three financial years, freedom of information requests have revealed.

Herefordshire Council revealed it has paid out almost £200,000 on non-disclosure agreements signed with staff in the last three financial years.

The local authority has signed a total of 13 NDAs with employees since April 1, 2015.

An NDA is a contract between two groups or individuals so that information is not made public.

The council signed five such agreements with employees in 2015/16 and four in 2016/17 totalling £90,831.28 and £50,272.92 respectively.

Another three agreements were signed in 2017/18 costing the taxpayer £58,555.

The council has so far signed one NDA during the current financial year but has refused to disclose its cost.

A council information officer said: “Due to the fact that there was only one compromise agreement in that year, providing the figure to you would identify the actual amount which was paid to that individual.

“The reasonable expectation from the settlement of the individual involved would be that information about the settlement (including the amount paid) would not be revealed.”

Separate freedom of information requests submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service also revealed the county’s police, fire and health services have also signed NDAs with staff since April 2015.

West Mercia Police awarded a total compensation of £63,892 for the seven gagging clauses it signed with employees, while Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service paid out £35,600 for two NDAs, one in 2015 and another in 2016.

Wye Valley NHS Trust representatives confirmed it also signed at least one NDA with a member of staff during the same period.

However, they refused to reveal the total of NDAs signed because they say the number was ‘too small’ to be disclosed. They also withheld the total cost to the taxpayer.

A Wye Valley NHS Trust information officer said: “In this instance because the numbers of cases of ‘compromise’ style non-disclosure agreements entered into by the trust since 2015 is so small, releasing payments made could pose a real risk of identifying individuals.”

Another freedom of information request revealed that publicly-owned company Hoople Limited has had to pay out more than £175,000 on NDAs with its staff since its creation.

Hoople, a teckal company which was set up and is jointly owned by Herefordshire Council and Wye Valley NHS Trust, has signed 15 such agreements since April 1, 2011.