Starting in January 2011, I carried out a broad ranging survey of 345 English local authorities (local councils) which was aimed at discovering totals for compromise agreements (settlement agreements) drawn up by each council between 2006 and 2011.
Compromise agreements came into being in the 1990s. They represent full and final settlements, legal documents which are drafted to ‘tie up any loose ends’ when a staff member’s employment comes to a halt. This ‘halt’ tends to be an unexpected, early one, and most often comes about because the employee was in dispute with their employer. The so-called ‘bond of trust’ between employer and employee may have broken down – which is how it’s usually portrayed by the employer. Sometimes, the employee may have been a senior member of staff, whose position had come under threat or for whatever reason, become untenable.
Compromise agreements tend to include clauses which prevent all signatories, including the issuing body, from talking about the circumstances that led to the issuing of the agreement and the contents of the agreement itself. These are “gagging clauses”. Some people, usually those with reputational concerns uppermost, refer to them as ‘confidentiality clauses’, and may be at pains to insist that they no longer use ‘gagging clauses’. In my mind, there is no distinction because they both have the same chilling effect on the signatory.
These are examples of contract clauses that gag or hinder free speech.
Compromise agreements and gagging clauses are legal, and regardless of the bilge that’s put about by employers, solicitors and sometimes unions, these draconian measures are used primarily to protect, preserve and advance the reputation of the issuing body. The unions’ interest is to conserve member funds. The employers’ interest is to polish the turd. The solicitors’ interest is purely a financial one. (Who’d have thought that, eh readers?)
For the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998, public bodies such as councils, NHS Trusts, police forces, fire authorities, etc. – bound by the laws within these Acts, are referred to as ‘data controllers’.
I’m about to check the survey I posted here a couple of years back, to see whether Rotherham Borough Council (the organisation that’s currently reeling from accusations of cover ups and unaddressed child abuse) answered my query at the time, and if they did, how many compromise agreements had been drawn up.
I’d say the number of agreements, if disclosed, would be a reliable barometer of how concerned the councillors and senior officers of this council were about concealing potentially scandalising events.
Compromise Agreements Survey – posted in February 2013
After 45 working days, in breach of the FOI Act, Rotherham Borough Council eventually responded, declaring a total of 36 compromise agreements, drawn up in circumstances of dispute, between the years 2006 and 2011.
According to this article from The Guardian, Shaun Wright, the under threat Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, was Rotherham Borough Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services between the years 2005 and 2010. The period of the child abuse stretched between 1997 and 2013 – 16 years.
This is not a large number of CAs, compared to other respondents, some of whom went into three figures:
Brighton and Hove – 123
Bristol City – 121
Coventry City – 114
Councils have statutory obligations to protect the children under their care. I would not want to draw any conclusions from these figures specifically with regard to child abuse, but because compromise agreements are an effective means of managing a statutory protector’s reputation, it’s possible that refusing requests for information when asked, or finding an effective means of withholding it, such as an exemption written into the Act, may be uppermost in the minds of persons who ‘know where the bodies are buried’, and want to keep a lid on potential scandal.
My survey was responded to, usually in full, by an impressive 292 of the 345 English Councils who were approached. I began to get the impression that modern IT storage systems had been making their mark. However…
22 data controllers released the information late in the day, or after I’d appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office as a last resort:
|English||2006 to 2011|
|Ashfield District Council||1|
|Bath and North East Somerset Council||18|
|Blaby District Council||19|
|Haringey Borough Council||30|
|Hertsmere Borough Council||11|
|Kettering Borough Council||6|
|Kirklees Borough Council||15|
|Knowsley Borough Council||8|
|Lambeth Borough Council||19|
|Leicestershire County Council||25|
|Malvern Hills District Council||7|
|Newham Borough Council||25|
|North Somerset Council||0|
|Salford City Council||40|
|South Bucks District Council||6|
|Sutton Borough Council||55|
|Tameside Borough Council||18|
|Tewkesbury Borough Council||1|
|Walsall Borough Council||26|
|Wokingham District Council||20|
|Worthing Borough Council||1|
|Wyre Forest District Council||0|
A total of 53 councils held out all the way through, coming up with exemptions, or failing to respond fully, as follows:
|English||2006 to 2011||Exemption|
|Local||Number of||or reason|
|Barnet Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Birmingham City Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Blackpool Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Bradford City Council||0||Misunderstood the request|
|Camden Borough Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Chiltern District Council||0||Exempt personal data|
|Croydon Borough Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Cumbria County Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|East Lindsey District Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|East Riding of Yorkshire Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Essex County Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Gloucestershire County Council||0||Couldn’t exclude TUPE etc.|
|Greenwich Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Hampshire County Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Havering Borough Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Herefordshire Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Hertfordshire County Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council||0||Exempt personal data|
|Hull City Council||0||Nothing heard|
|Isle of Wight Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Islington Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Leeds City Council||0||Couldn’t exclude TUPE etc.|
|Leicester City Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Lewisham Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Liverpool City Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Luton Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Manchester City Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Medway Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Mid Devon District Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Middlesbrough Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|North East Lincolnshire Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|North Yorkshire County Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Norwich City Council||0||Exempt personal data|
|Nottingham City Council||0||Nothing heard|
|Oldham Borough Council||0||Exempt personal data|
|Oxfordshire County Council||0||No data / Cost / resources|
|Peterborough City Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Plymouth City Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Sandwell Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Sheffield City Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Somerset County Council||0||Cost of locating data/delay|
|South Tyneside Borough Council||0||Nothing heard|
|Southwark Borough Council||0||Nothing heard|
|Staffordshire Moorlands District Council||0||Exempt personal data|
|Stoke on Trent Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Suffolk County Council||0||Don’t hold the data|
|Test Valley Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Thurrock Borough Council||0||Want to charge a fee for ‘disbursements’|
|Waltham Forest Borough Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|Warwickshire County Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|West Lancashire District Council||0||Cost of locating data|
|West Sussex County Council||0||No Central data / Cost|
|Westminster City Council||0||Exempt personal data|
If you click on any of the above links on the left, you’ll get a flavour of the difficulty I experienced in trying to get these councils to abide by the Act, to listen to reason and to open up their books for inspection.
I was exercising my statutory rights once more, after I’d briefly had them ‘removed’ by Cheshire West and Chester Council as a draconian means of restricting my access to whatever it was they were holding.
These 53 councils had basically slammed the shutters down, quoting various exemptions within the Act to support their position. The most common were ‘data not centrally held’ and ‘costs of retrieval’. Which I found strange, because 292 of their LGA colleagues appeared to have no difficulty. Perhaps the data was not centrally held by design? But that’s another story.
The point I want to make is:
If I was investigating child abuse or ANY form of abuse, and wanted to make a worthy and valuable job of it, I’d start by banging on the doors of the 53 naysayers listed above – particularly Southwark, Hull, Nottingham and South Tyneside. These 53 councils also happen to feature those whose scandalous conduct is regularly reported upon within the pages of Private Eye magazine.