Re­vealed: tax­payer mil­lions wasted fight­ing equal pay claims against women in Scot­land

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY PETER SWIN­DON

SCOT­LAND’S largest lo­cal au­thor­ity spent more than £2.5 mil­lion fight­ing equal pay claims by fe­male coun­cil work­ers over the last 10 years.

Fig­ures re­leased fol­low­ing a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest show that be­tween 2007 and 2017 – when the Labour Party con­trolled Glas­gow City Coun­cil – £1.8m was spent on le­gal fees and a fur­ther £700,000 on “in­ter­nal staff costs” to con­test claims by women who were vic­tims of wage dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The SNP claimed the fig­ures “demon­strate just how far Labour was pre­pared to go to fight equal pay” and a cam­paign group which rep­re­sents the ma­jor­ity of claimants said the out­lay was an “in­cred­i­ble waste of public money”.

The Court of Ses­sion de­cided in Au­gust that a re­grad­ing scheme in­tro­duced by Glas­gow City Coun­cil in 2007 may have pro­vided less favourable treat­ment for women work­ers. In Septem­ber, the SNP leader of the lo­cal au­thor­ity Su­san Aitken pledged to “end Glas­gow’s years of pay in­jus­tice”.

She has held meet­ings with Scot­tish Fi­nance Sec­re­tary Derek Mackay to dis­cuss “fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance” which could help pay the an­tic­i­pated £500m com­pen­sa­tion bill to at least 6,000 women.

How­ever, the SNP has crit­i­cised Labour for drag­ging its heels on equal pay when it led the coun­cil, po­ten­tially in­creas­ing the cost to the public purse.

The Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest asked Glas­gow City Coun­cil to set out in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal costs for equal pay lit­i­ga­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion and the lo­cal au­thor­ity pro­vided fig­ures from 2007 un­til 2017, a pe­riod cov­ered by the re­grad­ing scheme which was at the cen­tre of the Court of Ses­sion rul­ing.

The coun­cil spent a to­tal of £2,551,256 fight­ing the claims, in­clud­ing £712,832 on in­ter­nal staff costs. The fees for “coun­sels, so­lic­i­tors, opposition le­gal ex­penses, short­hand writ­ers, postage” and “other pro­fes­sional fees and ex­penses” to­talled £1,838,425.

A coun­cil source said one long-serv­ing se­nior di­rec­tor “went white” when they re­alised how much had been paid out.

Last month, Aitken, who be­came coun­cil leader af­ter the May lo­cal au­thor­ity elec­tions, ac­cused Labour politi­cians of “stick­ing their heads in the sand” over equal pay, “deny­ing jus­tice” to women work­ers.

She said years of in­ac­tion “in­flated the po­ten­tial cost with each pass­ing year – not to men­tion the cost of le­gal fees”.

AN SNP source said: “These fig­ures are hor­ren­dous and show just how far Labour was pre­pared to go in Glas­gow to fight equal pay. If they had just sorted this out when it first be­came an is­sue 10 years ago it would have cost a frac­tion of what it will cost now.

“Labour’s lead­er­ship can­di­dates need to jus­tify why they stayed silent on this is­sue for all those years and didn’t raise it with Labour while they ran the coun­cil. Why didn’t they ask them to di­rect of­fi­cers to re­solve this is­sue years ago?”

For­mer head of lo­cal govern­ment for Uni­son Scot­land, Mark Irvine, who is now an equal­i­ties cam­paigner and the spokesman for Ac­tion 4 Equal­ity Scot­land (A4ES), which rep­re­sents more than 80 per cent of claimants, said: “£2.5m is an in­cred­i­ble waste of public money, es­pe­cially af­ter three se­nior judges in Scot­land’s high­est civil court, the Court of Ses­sion, unan­i­mously con­cluded that Glas­gow City Coun­cil’s pay ar­range­ments are un­fit for pur­pose.

“I sus­pect the fig­ure is likely to be a huge un­der­es­ti­mate of the true cost to the coun­cil and lo­cal coun­cil tax­pay­ers … Glas­gow’s fig­ures un­der­es­ti­mate the real costs in­volved be­cause they don’t re­flect the cost of large num­bers of highly-paid se­nior of­fi­cials spend­ing much time of their time pulling the wool over the eyes of a largely fe­male work­force, in­stead of look­ing af­ter their in­ter­ests by up­hold­ing the prin­ci­ple of equal pay for work of equal value.”

Glas­gow coun­cil’s spokes­woman said: “These are costs in­curred by pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions that chose to chal­lenge pay claims through the courts.”

A Labour source ac­cused SNP crit­ics of “stag­ger­ing hypocrisy”, adding: “It is cur­rently an SNP-run coun­cil which is ap­peal­ing a Court of Ses­sion de­ci­sion on equal pay.”

Aitken re­sponded: “Any re­main­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings will only be for the pur­poses of pro­vid­ing clar­ity, they will not be used to de­lay or put bar­ri­ers in the way of reach­ing a set­tle­ment. I have in­structed coun­cil of­fi­cers to be­gin talks to agree terms of ref­er­ence for ne­go­ti­a­tions with all par­ties.”

A spokesman for Anas Sar­war’s lead­er­ship cam­paign said: “Anas has put tack­ling gen­der in­equal­ity at the heart of his cam­paign, and has al­ready un­veiled plans to cre­ate a Labour com­mis­sion to fi­nally end the gen­der pay gap once and for all.”

Richard Leonard’s cam­paign did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Coun­cil leader Su­san Aitken Pho­to­graphs: Colin Mearns

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