MPs criticise BBC’s £1m legal fees

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The BBC has disclosed it paid more than £1 million (€1.29m) to external barristers and solicitors to deal with tribunal claims brought by staff in equal pay and race discrimination cases. 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 however it acknowledges that more than 2,000 hours were spent on such cases.

The disclosures are made in a letter published by the UK House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee after pressing BBC Director-General Tim Davie for the figures. MPs wrote to him in December 2020 after the Corporation said it was ‘not possible to provide a total cost for external counsel fees’ for equal pay employment tribunal claims nor race related claims brought by staff. The published response from the BBC’s Head of Corporate Affairs notes it had ‘diverted some resource to gather the data requested by the Committee’.

In pursuing the information, the Committee said it was it difficult to understand why the BBC was unable to provide a such a breakdown given the comprehensive internal accounting procedures that the BBC has in place.

MPs raised the question about BBC legal costs on equal pay and race discrimination cases with the Director-General at a hearing in September 2020.

“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,” stated DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP. “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,” he confirmed.

The BBC provided the following information:

  • BBC spent £1,121,652 on external lawyers – solicitors and barristers – to represent the broadcaster in equal pay and race discrimination cases brought by staff.
  • Figure covers equal pay and race discrimination employment tribunal claims brought since July 2017, however does not cover costs of ongoing tribunal claims.
  • Additionally, it is disclosed that BBC in-house lawyers spent 2,452 hours dealing with staff allegations of equal pay and race discrimination. The BBC was unable to give a figure on costs but notes that in-house lawyers earn salaries of £46,210 – £68,800, and senior lawyers £66,740 – £102,680.

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