SCORES of departing Bury Council workers have been paid thousands of pounds in return for their silence, new figures have revealed.

Public authorities reach settlements with some staff in return for both parties staying quiet about why the employee left or about other sensitive information.

Bury Council claims it benefits taxpayers as it means the staff cannot sue the authority, but critics say it lacks transparency.

The Bury Times obtained figures using the Freedom of Information Act which show the council has issued 20 “gagging orders” since 2011, totalling £133,616.

The biggest payout was £18,169 and the average was £6,680.

The council would not say who they were made to or what job they did.

Town hall chiefs issued five payouts in 2010, one in 2008 and one in 2006. Another FOI response shows Bolton Council has not issued a gagging order since 2011.

In April, Government minister Eric Pickles warned councils against using gagging orders, encouraging them to part ways with staff fairly.

Taxpayers’ Alliance campaign manager Eleanor McGrath said: “Bury residents will be alarmed the council is spending more and more of their money on these secretive golden goodbyes.

“They are tantamount to gagging orders, which effectively buy the silence of former employees and completely go against the principle of openness and transparency.

“These arrangements should not be made behind closed doors because residents need to be reassured their cash is not being spent covering up failings or wrongdoing, or on silencing potential whistleblowers.”

Bury Lib Dem leader Cllr Tim Pickstone said: “We don’t know the details, but the significant rise in the number of these ‘gagging orders’ agreed by Bury Council is a cause for concern.

“It is a lot of taxpayers’ money, particularly given that recent court cases have failed to uphold the legality of some of these orders.”

Bury Council Chief Executive Mike Kelly said he understood public concerns about “compromise agree-ments” but insisted they were normal practice and resulted in taxpayer savings.

He added: “Compromise agreements are recognised by statute and are the only way an employee can validly ‘contract out’ of their employment law rights. It usually provides for a severance payment, in return for which the employee agrees not to pursue any claim or grievance they may have in an employment tribunal.

He added that, those in receipt of the payments, accounted for a “tiny fraction” — one per cent — of the total workforce, and were only used in exceptional circumstances.