Experts testing cladding after Grenfell banned from criticising Theresa May under 'gagging clauses'
An engineering firm testing cladding on government buildings in the wake of the Grenfell fire were banned from criticising the Prime Minister, it has emerged.
According to The Times, engineering firm WSP were forced to sign a gagging clause before carrying out the work.
The clauses – part of a £100,000 deal for the contract – stated that the company should not do anything to “embarrass” or “in any way be connected to material adverse publicity” related to the Cabinet Office.
The revelation comes as part of a wider Times investigation into the Government’s use of the clauses, which found Cabinet ministers had banned 40 charities and more than 300 companies from criticising them or their departments.
The paper found that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had included gagging orders in a contract with a company reviewing roads bosses' pay.
Meanwhile consultants advising government departments on Brexit were also made to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The Government had already faced a storm of criticism for the use of the controversial clauses after it was revealed the Department for Work and Pensions had forced at least 22 groups working on the rollout of the Universal Credit welfare programme to sign contracts forcing them to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey.
But the Grenfell United campaign group said that firms should not be “deterred” from speaking out.
They said: “The focus at every level of government must be to get to the truth about how and why Grenfell happened. No one should be deterred from speaking out.”
Vicky Browning from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations called on the government to dump the controversial clauses from all public-sector contracts.
She said: “Anti-advocacy clauses are anti-democratic. Civil society leaders have been calling for a ban of anti-advocacy clauses in all government grants and contracts for a number of years, and I renew that request today.”
WSP said: “We helped the Cabinet Office’s government property unit understand which types of cladding used across the UK government’s estate are unlikely to comply with building regulations so that the tragedy at Grenfell doesn’t ever happen again.”
The findings follow a vow from the Prime Minister to crackdown on “unethical” non-disclosure agreements in the light of recent allegations relating to Topshop boss Sir Philip Green.
Mrs May told MPs: “The government is going to bring forward measures for consideration for consultation to seek to improve the regulation around non-disclosure agreements and make it absolutely explicit to employees when a non-disclosure agreement does not apply or cannot be enforced.”
But Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office Jon Trickett accused the Prime Minister of being “hypocritical”.
“Coming just a few weeks after the prime minister promised to get tough on gagging clauses, these shocking revelations show the government to be deeply hypocritical as well as paranoid.”
A government spokesperson said the contracts were “standard” and would “protect the commercial interests of government and its supplier in a reasonable way.”