21 June 2013
A report by the National Audit Office has found that compromise agreements – in which an employee is paid money to leave their role and may vow not to disclose certain information – are widespread in the NHS and civil service and may be gagging whistleblowers.
Confidentiality clauses do not prevent staff from raising public interest concerns, which are protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act, but the NAO found those who had signed the agreements did not feel this fact had been fully explained.
While there is no effective system within government to track compromise agreements, incomplete records were retrieved, showing that around £28.4 million has been paid out in the last three years. This money was received by 1,053 staff leaving the public sector and almost all of the agreements they signed had gagging orders attached.
The report also revealed that many workers feel they would be putting their livelihoods at risk if they refused to sign compromise agreements.
“If an individual is unfairly dismissed and turns down a compromise agreement, the lack of a reference for that individual might block alternative employment in his or her profession,” the auditors explained.
The NAO called for the government to “get a grip” on the use of compromise agreements within the public sector, while Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge called for the Coalition to allow the compromise agreements it makes to be publically scrutinised.
“It is simply unacceptable for people who speak up about failures in service delivery to feel like they have been silenced in this way,” she said.