Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Council faces £757m equal pay bill

Birmingham Council workers celebrate after Supreme Court justices ruled they could launch pay equality compensation claims in the High Court
Birmingham Council workers celebrate after Supreme Court justices ruled they could launch pay equality compensation claims in the High Court

The country's largest local authority may face a bill of £757 million to settle a string of equal pay claims, including a recent ruling in favour of more than 150 women workers.

Birmingham City Council said the figure of £757 million reflected combined "actual and potential" equal pay settlements between 2006 and 2012 and could rise further still if more claims are made.

An annual audit letter assessing the council's financial performance said the city had settled a proportion of its equal pay liability, but had outstanding liabilities estimated at £541 million.

In a statement issued after the audit letter was made public, the local authority said: "The council shares the auditor's concern about the increase in equal pay claims against the council, which impact on its financial resilience and the resources available to deliver services. The affordability of this presents a major challenge."

The statement comes two weeks after a group of around 170 women workers, including cooks, cleaners and care staff, won an equal pay case against the council which lawyers said would have "serious ramifications" for employers.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court effectively extended the time workers have to bring equal pay compensation claims from six months to six years.

Birmingham City Council had tried to block the claims, arguing they should be taken to employment tribunals, which have a six-month time limit.

But former employees persuaded judges they could bring claims in civil courts, where there is a six-year limit.

In its annual letter to Birmingham City Council, auditor Grant Thornton said the city was managing its finances well, overspending by just £2.4 million during 2011/12 in the context of a £3.5 billion revenue budget.

But the auditor expressed concern that an increase in equal pay claims against the council had continued to "negatively impact on its financial resilience" and its wider delivery of value for money.

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