A SCOTTISH local authority is facing a legal payout of nearly £200,000 after the UK’s highest court ruled it had no right to withhold information about its pay levels.
South Lanarkshire Council refused requests from equal pay campaigners, claiming it would breach the Data Protection Act.
The case was taken on by the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Office and went to the UK Supreme Court after appeals by council chiefs.
Five Supreme Court judges unanimously dismissed the council’s second appeal yesterday.
Action 4 Equality Scotland campaigner Mark Irvine wanted to know if South Lanarkshire had paid more money for jobs traditionally done by men and asked the authority for details about its pay scales in May 2010.
The council is involved in a legal dispute over claims it awarded extra bonuses for male workers, while women on the same pay grade received nothing.
Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew welcomed yesterday’s judgment. “I am pleased that the ruling by the Supreme Court supports our own carefully considered conclusions on this case,” she said.
“While the relationship between freedom of information and data protection law can be complex, the Supreme Court’s ruling confirms the robustness of our approach and is a clear guide to how similar cases should be handled by Scottish public authorities.
“Importantly, the ruling also means that the requester can, at long last, receive the information to which he is entitled.”
The failed legal action is likely to cost South Lanarkshire almost £200,000 in legal bills.
The authority confirmed it had spent about £100,000. It also faces paying the commissioner’s bill, after the latter was awarded costs, which to date stand at £67,863. A final legal counsel invoice is still to come.
A council spokesman said the judgment was “disappointing”.
“We have never denied this information to people with a legitimate interest in it, where it is necessary and warranted, and that’s why it has been provided to those representing employees and ex-employees in tribunals,” he said.
“However, we have been acting on legal advice that, if we released it to a third party, we could be in breach of the Data Protection Act by disclosing information which could be used to identify specific people and their salaries.”
South Lanarkshire Council leader Eddie McAvoy said: “I am very disappointed at this outcome, and all the more so because we were told repeatedly by our legal advisers that our case was sound and that there were good grounds for the council’s arguments.”
He added: “Given the judges’ ruling, I have instructed officers to release this information as soon as is practical.”
Mr Irvine said the council had been left with “egg all over its face”.
He went on: “After three long years, justice and common sense have finally prevailed – although no thanks to South Lanarkshire Council, which has wasted over £200,000 of public money fighting this case.
“The wheels of justice turn very slowly at times, but today they finally caught up with South Lanarkshire Council, which should hang its head in shame.”