Bradford Council has refused to reveal the amount of compromise agreements made to employees as Communities Secretary Eric Pickles warned councils against using “under-the-counter pay-offs to silence departing staff”.

Mr Pickles issued the warning yesterday after it emerged that almost 5,000 public servants could have been given settlements involving gagging orders when they left their jobs.

A survey under the Freedom of Information Act found that 256 councils in Britain signed compromise agreements with former staff between 2005 and 2010, soaring from 179 in 2005 to 1,027 in 2010.

But it is not known how many involve Bradford Council because it did not respond to the FOI request, stating that to do so would exceed its limit of 18 hours of officer time because of the need for a manual trawl through documents.

Councillor Glen Miller, the leader of the Conservatives on the Council, has now written to Council’s chief executive Tony Reeves for details of all the compromise agreements dealt with in the last 15 years, which are being compiled for him.

Council leader Councillor David Green told the Telegraph & Argus: “I am not aware that there have been any compromise agreements signed during my time as leader.

And on the subject of their need, he said: “I think occasionally in only very specific circumstances there is a place for them, but only as an exception rather than the rule.”

The FOI request had asked for the “annual figures for the total number of current employees or former employees of Bradford Council who have signed compromise agreements directly related to the resolving of disputes, grievances, internal and external investigations and whistleblowing incidents”.

It had also asked for “annual figures for the number of current employees/former employees who have agreed, following the matter being raised and made conditional as part of a compromise agreement drawn up by the body acting as Bradford Council’s legal team, to forgo their right to approach the Council in future with FOI requests”.

Coun Miller said that he found the FOI refusal very strange.

“It always concerns me when an organisation signs a compromise agreement as it puts the onus that someone has done something wrong,” he added.

“These agreements should not be used, what do the residents of the district think when people sign these agreements?”

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, the group leader on the Council for the Liberal Democrats, said that she was not sure what the Council was trying to hide. “We have signed these agreements in the past, but I don’t see why people need to keep them secret,” she said. “I think we should have answered the question.”

Mr Pickles, a former Bradford Council leader, said new checks and balances would help stop gagging orders being abused.

“For too long, local government has made departing staff sign gagging orders, often with big pay-offs attached, away from the eyes of those who get left with the bill: the taxpayer,” he said.