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