GLASGOW faces tough choices to resolve a £500 million equal pay dispute with female council staff, its new leader has claimed, which include whether to seek a major loan from the Scottish Government.

City Council leader Susan Aitken has held meetings with Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to discuss "financial assistance" which would be deployed to help settle a 12-year wrangle with at least 6,000 female workers who are entitled to payouts over wage discrimination.

For years, women employed as carers, cleaners, catering staff, classroom assistants and clerical staff were paid £3-an-hour less than men in low-paid roles operating within the local authority.

In 2005, the authority accepted there were flaws in their pay arrangements with settlements offered to staff who had raised equal pay claims.

But March last year, a major case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that 6,000 women were now entitled to make additional claims.

Speaking last night, Cllr Susan Aitken said council officers have begun talks to agree "terms of reference" with unions and others involved in the long-running dispute.

She said: "The issue of denying whole sections of our staff, mostly low-paid female workers, the wages they are rightly due has been hanging over Glasgow for far too long. Its complex and dense issue but it is finally coming to the end of the road."

There would be no more unjustified delays or "barriers put in the way of reaching a settlement".

However outside City Chambers workers protested against the council's decision to seek leave to appeal the court ruling that paved the way for the pay out which could exceed even the mooted £500 million figure.

But Cllr Aitken said: "Any remaining legal proceedings will only be for the purposes of providing clarity. They will not be used to delay or put barriers in the way of reaching a settlement. Crucially, leave to appeal does not mean appeal."

She admitted any settlement will have major implications for the council.

"We can’t put a figure on how much this will cost as none of that work has ever been done and hope to have that in the coming months as negotiations progress," she said.

And she added: "We will doing everything we can to protect frontline services and will work to keep this separate from the day to day running of the council.

"We have also begun discussions with other parties, including the Scottish Government, for a potential route out of this."

Last week, it a report suggested that a decade-long failure of leadership by central and local government across Scotland had left taxpayers with a bill of more than £1billion for equal pay claims from female council staff.

The Accounts Commission said around £750m had been spent settling pay claims since 2004, in a damning study of politicians stalling and ducking responsibilities.

The research into how councils implemented an agreement brought in in 1999 to harmonise pay for employees and address historic inequalities, the commission found all but one of the 32 local authorities missed the 2004 deadline.

It took 11 years – twice as long as planned – for all councils to implement the agreement, which was finally completed in 2010.

The commission found progress was slowed by funding problems as councils received no extra money for the new pay scheme and some approaches taken to save costs and avoid industrial action, such as protecting pay and bonuses for some roles, were found to be discriminatory.

Unions gave a cautious welcome to her moves to finally settle but warned the pay-outs should not financed by slashing thousands of jobs.

Peter Welsh of union GMB Scotland said: "This must be new money that Glasgow City council finds, it cannot be funded by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Services have been cut to the bone already.

"These women have waited long enough for what is due to them and they must not be rewarded with a pay rise and their P45's.

"We will fight any moves to cut jobs to pay for this and the city's vital services must not be cut either. It's up to Glasgow City Council to find the money and workers and the city's residents must not be the ones to pay the price for their incompetence."

A Glasgow Council source said: "The private sector lawyers don't give a hoot how this pans out, as long as they get their pay day. The unions want to settle here and settle what's realistic. And they know the difficulties. It's of no value to them to hold the council over a barrel if in the longer term it means their members have no jobs and they have no muscle. There's a pragmatic way out of this."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome recent progress on equal pay and while Ministers have no legal powers to intervene in claims, we expect each local authority to take urgent action.”