Milton Keynes Council have refused to publish the amount of taxpayer’s money being spent on “gagging orders” for planning officers after it was revealed last week that staff turnover in the department was soaring.
Information obtained via a Freedom of Information request has revealed how MK Council declined to provide the number of planning officers who signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or settlement agreements or the amount of public money spent on the agreements.
In 2016, a BBC investigation into these agreements revealed most include “a strict clause preventing them from criticising their bosses.” With then Chairwoman Meg Hillier stating that “it was unacceptable if the agreements were being used to prevent whistleblowing”.
This follows on just one month from when MK Council Leader, Cllr Pete Marland, said that he does not “believe the council has anything to fear from the truth, and from being open and transparent”.
This was in response to the resignation of lead-reviewer Marc Dorfman who was investigating how a giant warehouse in Blakelands received planning permission. An investigation that had been marred by controversy and a subsequent lack of trust from residents.
Cllr Alice Jenkins raised the topic at Full Council on 14 July, asking if it is “an appropriate use of taxpayers money” to spend public cash on NDAs or compromise agreements and asked the Council to publish these figures immediately.
The Council refused to publish the figures but data from the BBC has shown that these agreements do cost taxpayers a huge sum.
Between 2011-2016, local councils spent more than £200m on 17,571 such agreements, averaging at £11,000 per ‘gagging order’.
Cllr Alex Walker, Leader of the Conservative Group, said:
“MK Council must be committed to improving transparency and openness, especially regarding their planning service.
If, as the Leader of the Council says, that they have “nothing to fear” from being open and transparent then they should release the figures immediately.
It would be an important step in restoring faith and confidence in MK Council and it’s planning department.”