United Kingdom

BBC blew £1m in legal battles fighting discrimination and equal pay cases

The BBC has spent more than £1million on legal fees in three and half years to fight equal pay and race discrimination cases brought by its own staff.

Solicitors and barristers it hired spent 2,688 hours on such cases from July 2017 to last December, and billed the corporation £1,121,652 – even though the BBC has its own in-house lawyers.

The figure, which has come to light in a letter from the BBC to the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee, does not include the cost of ongoing tribunal claims. Committee chairman Julian Knight, who had demanded the disclosure from the BBC, described it as ‘unbelievable’ last night.

He said money that could have funded programmes was instead used to pay ‘the salaries of barristers and lawyers’, and demanded an explanation.

The BBC has spent more than £1million on legal fees in three and half years to fight equal pay and race discrimination cases brought by its own staff

The corporation did not reveal the additional cost of using in-house lawyers to deal with staff allegations of pay inequality or race discrimination, but admitted they spent more than 2,400 hours on the work. Equal pay has been a huge source of controversy at the BBC.

Last year, it reached a settlement with journalist Samira Ahmed after she won an equal pay case. An employment tribunal found she should have been paid the same for her work on Newswatch as Jeremy Vine was on Points Of View.

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

BBC staff including presenters stage an International Women's Day equal pay demo outside New Broadcasting House In Central London. Today Presenter Sarah Montague (front)

Carrie Gracie quit her role as China editor in January 2018 in protest at pay inequality. She was eventually given back pay, which she gave to charity.

Mr Knight said the bill was ‘shocking’, adding: ‘It is unbelievable that the BBC has spent more than £1million of licence fee-payers’ money fighting claims brought by its own staff.

‘This disclosure sits uncomfortably against the BBC’s claim that it offers value for money. It must offer a full explanation of how legal costs were allowed to escalate to such levels.’

A BBC spokesman said: ‘The complexities of these cases mean they need to be managed by qualified professionals – not least to ensure fairness.’

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