Town halls around the country have already paid out about £750 million to settle 70,000 claims in recent years, a report by the Accounts Commission today finds.
In a study of how councils implemented an agreement struck in 1999 to harmonise pay for employees and address historic inequalities, the commission found all but one of the 32 local authorities missed the 2004 deadline.
It took 11 years – twice as long as planned – for all councils to implement the deal, which brings mens pay into line with women for doing the same jobs. It also settles historic cases where women lost out.
The report states: “Ultimately the measures councils adopted kept men’s salaries higher than women performing equivalent roles.”
The commission also found a “lack of collective national leadership to overcome the challenges and address equal pay issues in a timely way”.
Glasgow City Council had the highest number of claims at 22,730, followed by North Lanarkshire on 10,480 and Edinburgh on 6,163 while Orkney had the lowest at 14. North Lanarkshire paid out the most at £129.9m, followed by Glasgow at £91.4m and Edinburgh at £87.5m while Orkney was lowest at £1.8m.
North Ayrshire has the most claims still live, at more than 95 per cent, followed by East Dunbartonshire and Falkirk at around 90 per cent and 80 per cent respectively, compared to the national average of 37.4 per cent.
Between 2004 and 2016, some 70,453 equal pay claims were lodged against councils and payouts, including compensation agreements and legal fees, totalled around £750m.
At the end of September last year 26,912 equal pay claims lodged with the Employment Tribunal Service remained live – around a third of all claims since 2004. The commission stressed that workers could potentially still make new claims against councils.
Gail Macgregor of local government body Cosla said the report sets out the “complex judicial processes and huge costs” involved.
She added: “Councils take their responsibilities to achieve equal pay very seriously, and we are frustrated that there remains a high number of claims outstanding. This is in large part down to complex and nuanced legal issues which can frustrate the process and act as barriers to quicker outcomes.”