THE BBC has spent more than £1m on legal fees to fight equal pay issues with women and BAME staff.
The details have emerged following an exchange between an SNP MP and the broadcaster’s new director general Tim Davie during a Westminster committee hearing last year.
John Nicolson, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire and a former BBC journalist himself, asked during the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee hearing last September how much money had been spent defending claims by staff, however Mr Davie said he did not have the figures.
The broadcaster has provided the information to the committee today, but angered committee chairman Julian Knight MP by saying they had to “divert resources” to obtain the details.
In a letter addressed to the DCMS Committee dated 20 January 2021, the BBC disclosed it had been billed £1,121,652 by external lawyers for 2,688 hours—averaging more than £417 per hour—fighting equal pay and race discrimination cases.
This does not include the cost of ongoing disputes.
In addition to the amount spent on external counsel, the BBC also admitted its in-house lawyers had spent a total number of 2,452 hours fighting allegations of equal pay and/or race discrimination.
During the hearing on 29th September last year, John Nicolson MP asked Mr Davie “How much have you spent on lawyers’ fees fighting women in total? I think it’s going to be a huge figure.”
Mr Davie responded, “I don’t think we’ve got this number.”
In 2017, the BBC was forced by a predecessor Committee to publish the salaries of its highest-earning presenters which revealed an imbalance between the numbers of men and women at the top of the list.
Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed is among the BBC employees who have received settlements from the corporation over unequal pay.
Last year, a London employment tribunal found that Ms Ahmed should have been paid the same as fellow presenter Jeremy Vine for their work on Newswatch and Points Of View respectively.
The BBC had argued that the pair were not doing similar work.
Broadcaster Sarah Montague confirmed in January that she had won a £400,000 settlement and an apology from the BBC over unequal treatment.
Montague, who previously presented BBC Radio 4’s Today programme alongside veteran journalist John Humphrys, said the deal came after a “long period of stressful negotiations” which was triggered after discovering a disparity in her pay and conditions.
She accepted it after being warned that a battle to try to repair the situation could “run into the millions”.
Carrie Gracie resigned from her position as China editor in January 2018 in protest at pay inequalities.
She was eventually given a full apology by the corporation, and back pay.
The journalist donated the money to gender equality charity The Fawcett Society, to set up a fund for women who need legal advice on equal pay claims.
SNP Shadow Culture Secretary Mr Nicolson MP said the revelations were a “flagrant misuse” of the licence fee.
He 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.”
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.”