"EXTRAORDINARY" amounts of money were spent in the past few years on "gagging orders" at Clackmannanshire Council, according to a politician.

MSP Alexander Stewart highlighted Freedom of Information requests which showed around £1.79million was paid out by the local authority, which remains under financial pressure, for non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in the past five years.

NDAs are contracts between individuals and or organisations where parties agree not to disclose certain information.

However, the council explained that the 250 NDAs in question were "predominately" part of voluntary severance and redundancy packages for former employees.

For some years now, the local authority has been aiming to reduce its workforce through voluntary redundancies as part of a programme to transform the organisation and drive down expenditure with "spend to save" funds.

Mr Stewart, who represents Mid Scotland and Fife and is also Scottish Conservative spokesperson and shadow minister for local government, called on councils across the country, which collectively spent £57m on NDAs in the same time period, to rethink whether such expenses were necessary.

He said: "In the five-year period which these FOIs have covered, Clacks Council has confirmed that 250 NDAs or confidentiality clauses have been signed, with the council paying out an astonishing £1,793,031.

"This is an extraordinary amount of money to spend on non-disclosure agreements.

"At the same time, Clackmannanshire, which can little afford such expense, has had to cut services and introduce new charges whilst imposing the near maximum 4 per cent Band D council tax rise on families, as their budgets have been increasingly slashed.

"Council finances are already under enough pressure without having to spend huge amounts on NDAs and all local authorities, especially ours in Clackmannanshire, should be analysing whether such prevalent use of these gagging orders is really necessary."

When approached by the Advertiser, spokesperson for Clackmannanshire Council responded: "The council predominately uses settlement agreements as part of the voluntary severance and redundancy procedures that are part of the programme of transformation we are undergoing.

"Our transformation process will ensure we can deliver essential services while improving financial sustainability.

"Any payments made to staff are in line with council approved policies.

"Our settlement agreements ensure that former employees maintain the confidentiality of information they may have been privy to that is, for example, commercially sensitive, personal or confidential amongst other provisions.

"All employees are required to take independent legal advice prior to entering into a settlement agreement."