Cumbria county council is among the top UK spenders when it comes to settlement agreements with former staff.

Freedom of Information requests submitted by the TaxPayers' Alliance revealed that the county council ranked 11th in the country for the number of settlements signed and 13th for the total spend, with £1,366,177.65 handed out between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

Settlement agreements are legally binding agreements between employer and employee, which set out the terms of the termination of employment.

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."

The county council has handed cash for a total of 128 settlements in the last three financial years.

A spokesman for the authority said: "Cumbria County Council uses settlement agreements when there is a need to ensure that the terms of the exit between the employer and employee remain confidential.

"Settlement agreements are used in many organisations where the employer and employee have mutually agreed an end to the contract of employment, for reasons including redundancy.

"The annual figures include the ‘total amount’ the employee is contractually entitled to when leaving the council, which means these payments include all contractual payments such as notice pay, outstanding holiday pay and any payment due as a result of voluntary redundancy, all of which are in line with the council’s policy.

"We are committed to transparency and value for money for the taxpayer and as such the use of settlement agreements is routinely reviewed as part of our policy review process."

Carlisle City Council has paid out the highest amount among Cumbrian district authorities.

It paid out £390,094.59 for 12 settlement agreements since 2016/17.

A spokesman for the authority, which employs 476 staff, said: "Settlement agreements are uncommon. They are only put in place following financial and legal scrutiny.”

South Lakeland council also paid off 12 former employees, handing out a total of £344,513.88.

The authority said that £282,000 of this cash was due to redundancy and was keen to highlight it was not 'hush money'.

A council spokesman said: "Of the total of £344,513, £282,000 is due to redundancy as part of the council’s ongoing change and transformation programme (to better focus on customers, our behaviours and attitudes and having the people with the right skills in the right areas to deliver the best services), which is separately budgeted for. The total excluding the programme payments is therefore closer to £70,000.

“None of the settlement agreements signed included any form of ‘gagging’ clauses or could in any way be described as ‘hush money’.

"All were mutually agreed with the departing employee, for example extending someone’s contractual notice period, so they may have agreed to work three months’ notice instead of the one month required by the contract.

“All employees of the council will have confidentiality clauses built in to their contracts as a matter of course. The council does not use settlement agreements to add additional confidentiality clauses for any staff leaving after being made redundant.

“All the council’s procedures are in line with contractual agreements and in line with both its own policies and employment law.”

Allerdale council forked out just over a quarter of a million pounds between 13 former members of staff.

Commenting of the spend, a spokesman said: "Settlement agreements between the council and the individuals concerned remain confidential."

Barrow-in-Furness spent no money on settlements, while Eden and Copeland were the district councils with the lowest amount paid.

Eden spent just over £137,000 between five members of staff, while Copeland handed almost £66,000, split between two former employees.

A spokesman for Copeland council, which employs around 250 staff, said: "The figures confirm that Copeland council uses settlement agreements very infrequently.

"However, on the small number of occasions they have been used, they have been the optimum solution for both the council and the individual concerned.”