Great Britain

BBC spends more than £1.1m on legal fees in equal-pay and race-inequality cases

The BBC has spent more than £1m on legal fees fighting equal-pay and race-discrimination cases brought by staff, it has been revealed.

Disclosure of the sum prompted MPs to call for an investigation into how the legal costs were allowed to escalate to such levels when the BBC is cutting journalists’ jobs.

Broadcasters Sarah Montague, Samira Ahmed and Carrie Gracie were among those given payouts or back pay after publication in 2017 of salaries above £150,000 led to anger among women who said they had been unfairly treated.

External solicitors hired by the corporation spent 2,688 hours on employment tribunal claims in equal-pay and race-discrimination cases brought since then.

The BBC was billed £1,121,652 in fees for both solicitors and barristers. The figure does not cover costs of tribunal claims not yet settled.

The information was revealed in a letter from the BBC to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, published after MPs pressed director-general Tim Davie for the figures.

The BBC was unable to put a figure on additional costs of using in-house lawyers to deal with staff allegations concerning equal pay or race discrimination but says that more than 2,400 hours were spent on such cases.

Broadcaster Sarah Montague confirmed in January that she had won a £400,000 settlement and an apology from the BBC over unequal treatment.

Ms Montague, who previously was a presenter on Radio 4's Today programme, said the deal came after a “long period of stressful negotiations”.

Ms Gracie, who resigned as China editor in 2018 in protest at pay inequalities, was eventually given a full apology by the corporation and back pay, which she donated to gender-equality charity the Fawcett Society.

Newswatch presenter Ms Ahmed should have been paid the same as Jeremy Vine for Points Of View, an employment tribunal found last year.

The letter from Andrew Scadding, the BBC’s head of corporate affairs, said managers had diverted resources to gather the data requested by the committee.

A spokesman for the broadcaster said the diversion “came at a time when we were working with lower staffing levels, due to the pandemic”.

MP Julian Knight, the committee chairman, said: “It is unbelievable that the BBC has spent more than £1m 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.

“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.”

He added: “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.”

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