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Intransigence on equal pay should end here

As it was announced yesterday that South Lanarkshire's long-running equal pay dispute had finally been settled, Paul Manning, the council's executive director of finance, commented that the council had "long been committed to equality of pay for those in comparable jobs, regardless of gender".

Claimants in the dispute could be forgiven for having doubted that at times. The case has been protracted and on occasion bad-tempered, and memorable for the council's surprising decision to go to legal lengths and significant expense to try and withhold information relating to pay scales.

That effort failed after being rejected, first by the Scottish Information Commissioner, then by the Court of Session and finally the Supreme Court. Subsequently, after the council had run up a lawyers' bill of an estimated £200,000 in the Freedom of Information case, constructive talks began, leading finally to the news that a settlement had been reached.

This is very welcome; no doubt the sound of chinking glasses could be heard last night in homes from Hamilton to Rutherglen. Fox and Partners, lawyers for some of the claimants, noted that this was not quite the end of the process, since each individual involved must now be contacted about what the settlement means to them, but the tussle is over.

So what does it mean? Clearly for the women concerned, it means a financial settlement, though the details of that are being kept confidential. For present and future women employed by the council, it should mean they are fairly remunerated from the start compared with men doing similarly skilled jobs.

As for other bodies or organisations which might have considered trying to resist well-founded equal pay claims as vigorously as South Lanarkshire, it should be a lesson: do not.

This dispute has been one of the most controversial in Scotland. Not only did the council spend so much taxpayers' money by resisting this settlement so hard, it has also risked squandering public goodwill.

At the height of the dispute last summer, the council pushed its case to the furthest possible extent, though it must have known there was a high probability of losing.

Now the dispute has been settled, council leader Eddie McAvoy has been quick to point out that his administration has been guided throughout by "the legal advice we have received", though it remains to be seen whether local people accept that. Still, the council deserves credit for seeking a negotiated settlement.

Disparities in pay between men and women employed by the same organisation and doing similarly skilled jobs is an anachronism.

There can be no excuse for it, end of story. Settling such disputes, especially at times when public finances are under strain, is a colossal headache for councils but the longer such disparities persist, the bigger the bill to put them right is likely to be. Employees in Scotland face problems enough, from low pay to zero-hours contracts: they should not have to fight anachronistic battles on this front any more.

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Local government

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