COUNTY Hall has come under fire for spending £1.1million of ratepayers’ cash on gagging former staff.

Since 2010, Essex County Council, which is facing a funding black hole of £235million by 2016, blew the eye-watering sum on “compromise or confidentiality agreements” for 69 departed employees.

The highest payout of £80,000 went to a worker in the schools, children, and family department.

Other windfalls to departing staff include £18,000 to an individual from corporate services who was fired for poor performance, and £25,000 for an employee from the same department who was axed after a disciplinary hearing.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, councillor Julie Young, questioned senior politicians at the Tory authority on the issue this week.

Ms Young, who represents Wivenhoe St Andrew, said: “Spending more than £1million of public money to effectively silence 69 departing employees is nothing short of excessive.

“These agreements should not be used as a costly tool to brush under the carpet possible council failings, at the taxpayers’ expense.

“The council is promoting, as one of its core principles, openness and transparency with the public, yet this very recent data published on compromise agreements does not provide any reassurance to the public the Council is doing enough.”

She was also critical of the fact such payouts were being made amid cuts to frontline services.

The council has passed plans to let the axe fall on Deanes School in Thundersley, while moves to cut the budget for youth centres and school buses have also been put forward.

J o n a t h a n Isaby, political director of the Tax Paye r s ’ A l l i a n c e , s a i d : “Residents will be alarmed the county council has spent vast amounts of their money on secretive, golden goodbyes in the last few years.

“These compromise agreements 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 that their cash is not being spent covering up failings or wrongdoing, or on silencing potential whistleblowers. There needs to be a culture of openness.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Compromise agreements are not about silencing staff. The use and terms of any compromise agreements, or settlement agreements, are considered on a case by case basis.”