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Birmingham City Council may sell NEC to cover legal claims

Lawyers for equal pay claimants suggest ways in which Birmingham City Council could have avoided owing a reported £1bn

Posted on 15 January 2014

The lawyer for thousands of women paid unfairly by Birmingham City Council has said that there would have been many ways in which the local authority could have avoided a £1 billion bill for settling thousands of equal pay cases.

Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in the UK, has agreed settlements with female staff including home care workers and school cooks who were paid less than men for work of equal value, but there is now speculation that some of the Council’s prized assets such as the NEC could be sold to cover a potential debt of £1bn.

The council has borrowed money but the Department for Communities and Local Government will not allow it to borrow any more.

Chris Benson, from law firm Leigh Day, which represents more than 5,000 women who are taking equal pay claims against local authorities, including Birmingham City Council, said:

"There are a number of ways in which Birmingham could have avoided owing these huge sums of money.

"They could have settled with the workers they underpaid instead of paying London lawyers to defend the indefensible for two years.

"They could, of course, have paid the women fairly at the time, as other councils did.

"Instead they are now left with so much to pay as they owe these women many years of wages, with interest on top.

"They could have also stopped paying the men bonuses sooner. We showed that, even when they knew they had a problem, they still tried new pay systems that contrived to pay the men more.

"If they had only paid their female workers the same as the men, this would never have happened."

Labour MP Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston) told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

"I think, with a very heavy heart, you face up to the fact that you are caught between a rock and a hard place and you get the best deal to settle what was a liability that should not have occurred.

"The previous Tory-led council could have settled. They kept challenging the court decisions time and time again.

"However, I think it is the right thing for the current council to face up to the problem, do the right thing, and get Birmingham back on a viable and financially-sustainable basis.