Council employees are being paid money to keep quiet after having their employment terminated - with Brighton and Hove making more payments than anywhere else in the country.

Dozens of staff across three biggest councils in the county have signed compromise agreements in return for not pursuing claims and grievances in court.

Brighton and Hove City Council alone has issued 123 in the last five years - the most of any authority in the country.

Yet union representatives and local authorities claim it was a way of saving money in the long run as it means disputes do not go to employment tribunals.

Open government campaigner Paul Cardin said: “With the issues of privacy, super-injunctions, gagging orders and freedom of speech so prevalent in the media, it's important that public bodies are seen to promote fairness, openness and transparency.

“They should not be seen using public funds to conceal sensitive issues or potential malpractice beneath a veil of secrecy.”

But Alex Knutsen, of trade union Unison, said: “Sometimes there are disputes between an employee and employer that can only be solved by tribunal. This always results in costs to at least one of the parties.

“A compromise agreement is a way of ensuring neither side has to back down yet still save the taxpayer or the work potentially unnecessary court costs.”

The agreements are legally binding writs signed following the termination of employment. It usually provides for a severance payment.

More than 50 were signed last year.

The exact total spent is not known because of the confidentiality clause in the deals but payments can be as high as tens of thousands of pounds.

Senior city council officers such as former environment director Jenny Rowlands and former acting chief executive Alex Bailey are thought to have signed such agreements.

A large number of them are thought to have been signed by refuse workers who were made redundant in the equal pay row of 2010.

A city council spokeswoman said: “They can provide the most cost-effective route to resolve issues with the agreement of all parties.”

West Sussex County Council confirmed it had issued 55 since 2005, 25 of which had been to workers in schools.

A council spokesman said it was not a large number for an organisation of its size adding: “It's a simple reflection of the level of staff turnover associated with potential disputes which are not resolved internally prior to the individual leaving our employment.”

A spokesman for East Sussex County Council, which has issued 21 since 2007/8, said the small number was a “reflection of the positive employee relations climate across the council and the proactive approach we adopt to addressing workplace conflict through open dialogue with the recognised trade unions”.