GLASGOW’S equal-pay battle could have been resolved for a fraction of the £550 million the local authority eventually agreed to under the terms of a potential settlement offer put forward nearly three years ago, our sister publicatuion, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

Stefan Cross of Action 4 Equality Scotland, which represents the majority of the 16,000 mainly female workers who secured the mammoth settlement in January, said he approached the council in June 2016 with the intention of bringing an end to the long-running dispute.

“We had a short meeting with [then council leader] Frank McAveety and [HR director] Robert Anderson to discuss the possibility of resolving these matters,” he said.

“The basis was that if they paid our clients what we thought they were entitled to under payment protection we would end the legal proceedings.

“Our estimate was that it would be about £70 million but we would have to verify the figures as we hadn’t seen the pay data.

“That was the nature of the discussion; it was us making a presentation trying to break the log-jam and them not responding at all. We didn’t succeed - thank god for that.”

At that time, the council had won an employment tribunal case saying that a job evaluation process it had completed a decade previously was sound. An appeals tribunal, however, had ruled that its practice of protecting bonuses that had previously been earned by male staff only was discriminatory.

While the women were appealing the first decision and the council the second, Mr Cross said he would have been willing to draw a line under all proceedings to settle the payment protection part only.

“Statistically, there’s only a 10% chance of overturning a tribunal decision so we knew there was a massive risk that we would lose the appeal - it was much more likely that we would lose than we would win,” he said.

“We thought we wouldn’t win until we got to the Supreme Court, although we didn’t even know if we would get the possibility to get to the Supreme Court.

“We didn’t know we would win at the Court of Session - that was the risk we were running - but it happened to be that we got a bench that clicked.”

After losing both appeals the council, which passed from Labour to minority SNP control in May 2017, agreed to settle the claims, with the £550m deal being agreed this January after a year of negotiations. To help foot the bill the local authority, which will increase council tax by 3% this year, is mortgaging a portfolio of properties including the Riverside Museum and SEC Armadillo, with the annual cost of servicing that debt expected to run into tens of millions of pounds.

Mr McAveety and Glasgow City Council both confirmed that the informal and unminuted meeting with Action 4 Equality took place, although they denied that the £70m figure had been discussed.

“This did not happen,” a council spokesman said. “Representatives of Action4Equality restated their position that the council should stop defending equal-pay claims.

“However, officers are clear that no offer was made and that figure was not put to the council.”

Mr McAveety said that while he personally would have been in favour of negotiating an end to the dispute, his hands were tied by council officials who wanted to follow legal process.

“Senior officials said ‘this is in the courts and there’s been an employment tribunal ruling that has favoured the council’,” he said.

“The general discussion [at the meeting] was around the issue of the number of folk that Action 4 Equality were representing, an observation on the role of the trade unions and, from Stefan Cross’s point of view, that we should try to settle.

“It was left to Robert Anderson and the chief executive [Annemarie O’Donnell] to deal with and I never came back [to Action 4 Equality] because I thought there was no authorisation from the council.”

The eventual bill for the local authority is significantly higher than Mr Cross’s original estimate because, in addition to the number of claimants more than doubling since June 2016, it is compensating affected workers for having their jobs undervalued as well as for not being able to share in bonuses.

The £550m figure covers the period from 2007, when the discredited pay system was put in place, to either 2017 or 2018, with a further settlement expected to be negotiated to cover the period from that end point to when a new system is put in place.

The new scheme is not expected to be implemented until 2020 at the earliest, with 3,000 individual jobs having to be assessed, compared and signed off by both the council and the women’s union representatives first.

The staff who are part of the claim are expected to start receiving their cash in the summer, with average payments in the region of £34,000.