More than 50 staff have been paid off by Wandsworth and Richmond councils since they entered into a shared staffing arrangement three years ago, it has been revealed.

Compromise agreements, which can involve ‘gagging’ or confidentiality orders, are usually struck up when an employee facing redundancy or workplace issues.

Under the agreement an employer asks the employee to sign on the line in return for a payoff.

Since 2017, the two local authorities have entered into 54 non-disclosure agreements with staff, a Freedom of Information request by the Wandsworth Times has revealed.

These agreements have cost the councils upwards of £700k in contractual benefits.

Settlement agreements are often seen as controversial because under the Public Interest Disclosure Act whistle-blowers are supposed to be protected.

The money is handed over under legal contracts in which the departing worker receives an increased pay-off in return for promising not to challenge their departure in a court or tribunal and not to talk about it in the media.

Whistle-blowers are staff who report wrongdoing at their workplace – they are protected by the law and should not be treated differently for raising issues.

In 2018, 11 staff were silenced, while so far in 2019 six deals have been made.

But it was 2017 which saw the largest chunk of cash handed out.

In total, 37 settlements were made, accounting for £513,000. This came shortly after a decision was made by both Wandsworth and Richmond councils to enter into the shared staffing arrangement (on October 3 of 2016). This arrangement sees staff jointly employed by both authorities.

A spokeswoman on behalf of Richmond and Wandsworth Councils said: “These figures are a reflection of Richmond and Wandsworth councils going through a number of restructures and efficiency savings.

"For example, more than half of the costs in 2017 reflect a series of Tupe transfers to other organisations and not as a direct result of the formation of the Shared Staffing Agreement.

"In the vast majority of the settlements, payments made are based on contractual entitlements only.

“Any confidentiality clauses are focused on the terms and contents of each individual agreement.

"They do not restrict or constrain the recipient from exercising any other rights or duties in whistleblowing or reporting other failings in respect of their employment.

"In other words, the terms of each settlement is only ever intended to ensure confidentiality in respect of the actual settlements and are not ‘general Non-Disclosure Agreements’.”