GAGGING orders handed out to former Clackmannanshire Council employees have cost the public purse almost £2million since 2010.

Figures revealed under freedom of information have found the local authority dished out an average of £19,588 each to 97 members of staff.

The controversial settlement agreements are offered to those leaving employment, so long as they do not take the council to a tribunal or criticise them publicly.

A spokesperson for Clackmannanshire Council insisted the voluntary agreement between staff and council is aimed at protecting personal or commercial information.

Of the 20 councils who responded to the FOI, Clackmannanshire proved to be the second highest with payouts of £1.9m.

According to the Scottish Government, local authorities are under a "legal duty" to use their resources as efficiently as possible.

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “We are supposed to be living in a time of increased transparency when it comes to public services.

“There is a particular concern just now among people about the treatment of whistleblowers across all services.”

Eben Wilson of Taxpayer Scotland added: “It’s not right that councils are still using these payments to protect themselves.

“Council taxpayers are in essence the shareholders of the collective services that councils provide.

“Officials need to be totally transparent in their operations, and if that means being honest about mistakes and other failings then so be it.”

A spokesperson for Clackmannanshire Council said it has paid "voluntary severance packages" mainly to enable a restructuring of its services.

The statement added: "These packages have been offered and accepted on the basis of voluntary agreements between staff and the council.

"A standard clause in severance agreements ensures that staff leaving the council do not disclose any sensitive personal or commercial information.

"The council has a range of policies for whistle blowing, managing staff conduct and leaving the council's employment which can all be used in appropriate circumstances."