Hertsmere council paid one of the largest amounts of settlement agreements in England.

Data from the TaxPayers’ Alliance reveals that Hertsmere Council and Three Rivers District Council have paid significantly more on settlement agreements compared to neighbouring councils, Watford and Dacorum.

Settlement agreements are between an employer and employee that sets to resolve any dispute the two parties may not resolve, which mainly involves the employer paying the employee but can also involve payments for organisational changes.

Between 2016 to 2019, councils across the UK agreed on at least 6,980 settlement agreements worth over £98,059,105.

Watford Borough Council has ten agreed settlements during this time, having spent a total of £109,391.20 and an average settlement claim being £10,932.92.

Three Rivers District Council has nine agreed settlements, spending £184,671.27 and the average settlement amount being £20,519.03.

Hertsmere had the 17th largest total agreed settlement out of all UK authorities, with a total of ten settlements amounting to £349,921 and an average settlement of £35,992.10.

Dacorum had just three settlements agreed, with a total of £18,500 paid and an average amount of £6,166.67.

Darwin Friend, researcher at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Though settlement agreements are sometimes necessary, councils need to remember that it’s ratepayers who foot the bill.

“These settlements have been signed at the same time that the vast majority of local authorities have increased council tax, meaning some have spent huge sums on hush money while hiking up local rates.

“Given that almost 50 councils have managed to spend nothing on these deals, it should be perfectly possible for those paying the most to do better and keep down the costs of individual golden goodbyes.”

Speaking on their high total of settlement agreements, a spokesperson for Hertsmere Council said to characterise all settlement agreements as “hush money” is “wrong”.

They said: “Between 2016 and 2019 we undertook a significant organisational change which included a reduction in the chief officer tier from a structure with three chief officers down to two.

“This enabled us to make the necessary savings to balance our budget. In all instances the costs can be recovered within a reasonable period of time (often just one year but never more than three years).

“The 50 councils that have spent nothing on settlement agreements may not have made the kind of changes, nor achieved the level of savings that we have over the last three years.

“The settlement agreements frequently include the costs of redundancy payments and other contractual payments such as holiday pay, that would have to be made whether a settlement agreement was entered into or not.

“Some councils may publish only the discretionary sums involved but we publish all the costs, whether discretionary or contractual.”

Watford Borough Council and Dacorum were both some of the councils that did not publish all costs, they were contacted about these figures but did not reply.

A spokesperson from Three Rivers said: “Three Rivers District Council has a very high satisfaction level and staff turnover is lower than most councils.

“On the rare occasions when we do agree a settlement with an employee, it is because it lessens the burden on the public purse to do that and minimises disruption to our services.

“Holiday pay and notice pay will always raise the level of a settlement, but these are contractual entitlements staff have earned.

“HR and legal advice are always taken, and we do not pay what the Taxpayers Alliance misleadingly call ‘hush money’ under any circumstances.

“Sound reasons for the proposal have to be considered before settlement agreements are signed off.

“The council is committed to continuing to manage organisational change and individual cases in the most effective way possible, based on sound business cases and honouring the contractual entitlements of employees whose employment has ended.”