BBC ‘splurged’ more than £1 million of licence-payer money fighting women and BAME staff in court

The BBC has spent in excess of £1 million of licence fee-payers’ money fighting equal pay and race discrimination cases lodged against the corporation, it has been revealed.

The news comes nearly four months after SNP Shadow Culture Secretary and member of the Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, John Nicolson, pressed BBC Director-General Tim Davie on the issue in September last year.

Mr Davie told the committee at the time that he did not know how much the corporation had spent fighting against equal pay claims nor race-related claims brought by staff.

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The committee contacted Mr Davie about the issue again in December, after the BBC claimed it was “not possible to provide a total cost for external counsel fees” for equal pay employment tribunal claims nor race-related claims made against it by employees.

Now, in a letter addressed to the DCMS Committee, the BBC has disclosed that it was billed £1,121,652 by external legal teams for 2,688 hours of work involving the cases.

On average, the BBC paid more than £417 per hour for the legal representation.

The figures do not cover costs of ongoing tribunal claims.

The letter also revealed that the BBC’s in-house counsel spent a total of 2,452 hours battling allegations of equal pay and racial discrimination.

The BBC has spent in excess of £1 million of license fee-payers’ money fighting equal pay and race discrimination cases lodged against the corporation, it has been revealed. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Head of the DCMS Committee, Julian Knight, has called on the newly-appointed BBC chair Richard Sharp to investigate the “shocking” legal bill as a priority.

The disclosure comes after the Beeb lost several high-profile equal pay cases raised by female employees.

The corporation was forced to reimburse and apologise to Carrie Gracie, who resigned as China editor in January 2018, because it had paid her significantly less than her male colleagues with similar roles for years.

In 2019, a tribunal unanimously determined that Samira Ahmed’s work presenting BBC’s Newswatch programme was equal to that of Jeremy Vine on Points of View, despite him being paid six times more.

Director-General Tim Davie told the committee in September that he did not know how much the corporation had spent fighting against equal pay claims nor race-related claims brought by staff. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

And earlier this month, Sarah Montague, former presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme, announced that she had won a £400,000 settlement and an apology from the BBC over unequal treatment.

Commenting on the BBC’s letter, Mr Nicolson MP, who is a former journalist at the broadcaster, said: “The BBC has so far splurged over a million pounds and thousands of hours fighting women and BAME staff.

“They’ve lost every single case. This is a flagrant misuse of licence-payer money.

“It is time for the BBC to stop fighting women and minorities over equality.”

Mr Nicolson, a former journalist at the broadcaster, said: “The BBC has so far splurged over a million pounds and thousands of hours fighting women and BAME staff. (Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

The corporation is also facing controversy over the abolition of free TV licences for the over-75s.

The universal right to a free TV licence ended last year for the age group and only those in receipt of pension credit will not have to pay.

Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS Committee, said: “It is unbelievable that the BBC has spent more than £1 million of licence fee payers’ money fighting claims brought by its own staff about equal pay and race discrimination.

“Money that could have gone into making programmes or alleviating licence-fee costs for the over 75s has instead been used to pay the salaries of barristers and lawyers.

“This information was not forthcoming. It was only as a result of the DCMS Committee pressing Director-General Tim Davie for an answer that the shocking size of the BBC’s legal bill has been revealed.

“The BBC’s line that it had to divert resources in order to gather the information we requested is frankly completely unacceptable and shows a disregard for public scrutiny.

“And this at a time when the corporation is struggling to balance its books with hundreds of journalists’ jobs being cut.

“This disclosure sits uncomfortably against the BBC’s claim that it offers value for money.

“It must now offer a full explanation of how legal costs were allowed to escalate to such levels. We will be calling on the newly appointed BBC chair Richard Sharp to investigate as a priority.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which supported a number of the claimants against the BBC, including Carrie Gracie, said the corporation had “defended the indefensible”, and called on it to resolve ongoing cases.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “It’s a shocking sum of money to have spent on defending the indefensible.

"There have been so many occasions in the past four years when the NUJ has urged the BBC to stop wasting money on lawyers and instead sort things out sensibly with individuals who have been discriminated against and cheated out of pay and pension contributions.

“There have even been equal pay cases amongst them where we have been confident that the arrears in salary owed were ultimately dwarfed by the cost of the legal team arguing against settling,” she added.

"The NUJ has worked hard to stamp out pay inequity and discrimination at the BBC – in acknowledging the financial cost of defending these cases, albeit an incomplete total, the BBC should reaffirm its commitment to resolving outstanding cases, boosting transparency, stamping out discrimination and working with the unions to achieve genuine equity at work.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC is committed to being a truly inclusive employer.

“While we aim to manage costs efficiently and proportionately, the complexities of these cases mean they need to be managed by qualified professionals – not least to ensure fairness.”

The £1,121,652 figure covers three-and-a-half years, and paying for free TV licences for over 75s would cost £750 million a year, according to the corporation.

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