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BBC has ‘defended the indefensible’ by spending £1 million on discrimination cases

THE BBC has “defended the indefensible” by spending more than £1 million fighting discrimination cases instead of “sorting things out sensibly,” the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said today. 

In a letter published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee (DCMS), the broadcasters disclosed that it paid the sum in legal fees 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 such cases.

But it did acknowledge that more than 2,000 hours were spent on them. The figures do not cover the costs of ongoing tribunal claims. 

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “It’s a shocking sum of money to have spent on defending the indefensible. 

“There have been so many occasions in the past four years when the NUJ has urged the BBC to stop wasting money on lawyers and instead sort things out sensibly with individuals who have been discriminated against and cheated out of pay and pension contributions.

“There have even been equal pay cases among them where we have been confident that the arrears in salary owed were ultimately dwarfed by the cost of the legal team arguing against settling.”

Ms Stanistreet said that in acknowledging the financial cost of defending equal pay and race discrimination cases, the BBC “should reaffirm its commitment to resolving outstanding cases, boosting transparency, stamping out discrimination and working with the unions to achieve genuine equity at work.”

The DCMS said it would be calling on newly appointed BBC chairman Richard Sharp to investigate the legal costs as a priority. 

Committee chairman Julian Knight said it was “unbelievable” that the BBC has spent £1 million of licence fee payers’ money fighting claims brought by its own staff. 

He said: “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.

“[BBC] must now offer a full explanation of how legal costs were allowed to escalate to such levels.”

A BBC spokesman said: “While we aim to manage costs efficiently and proportionately, the complexities of these cases mean they need to be managed by qualified professionals – not least to ensure fairness.”

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