Gina Davidson: Council must throw in towel

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IN a few weeks time the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street will reopen its doors, which have been closed for three years while it’s undergone a major revamp.

For the first time ever, one gallery is given over entirely to women; pioneers in fighting the good fight for their gender, proving that they were just as capable as men when it came to science, literature, medicine, art, politics . . . in fact, in anything.

Poignantly though, there’s a slideshow of black and white photos of women, all very upright and Victorian-looking – but no-one has any idea who they are. The reason is, of course, because as women, who they were, what they did . . . it just wasn’t considered important enough to log.

It’s hard to believe in this day and age of apparent gender equality, where women can aspire to running the country – or even the city council – when girls outperform boys at school exams, when employment rights ensure that having a womb doesn’t mean you’re a lesser being, that there was ever a time when being a woman meant you were a second-class citizen.

But there was, and there still is – especially if you happen to be employed by Edinburgh City Council. There may well be no glass ceiling there given that the chief executive is a woman, as is the director of the children and families department and, of course, the city’s political leader, but if you happen to be further down the chain, the women who dish up school meals, help teachers in the classroom, take care of our elderly in their own homes . . . well, then it’s a different story altogether.

For many years local authorities have been run by men, for men. Even Labour councils ensured that the old boy’s network ruled, keeping women in so-called unskilled jobs and those in more “white collar” employment, in their place by refusing to pay them the same money as they did their male counterparts. And the male-dominated trade unions have gone along with it.

Of course, councils are not alone in this. Many private sector employers have massive gaps between what they pay women, and what they pay men. The difference is, local authorities are more accountable when it comes to breaking the law.

That, after all, is what Edinburgh’s council has been doing. And even to this day there are female staff it is refusing to treat equally. In June this year the council took an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session, claiming it should not have to pay women workers the same money as men performing equivalent jobs. It was attempting to overturn a legal ruling – and an original appeal result – both of which had told it to cough up.

But no, it spent who knows how much taxpayers’ cash (let’s hope records have been kept), trying to defend the indefensible. Now the legal result is out, and once more it’s been told to pay up. And what does it say? That it still might appeal, this time to the Supreme Court in London.

Where is this authority’s morality? This issue, which involves classroom assistants, social care workers and clerical assistants, has been rumbling on for five years and some are due back-pay for up to ten years. The council’s defence?

That these women were employed in different establishments than their male counterparts so cannot be compared. It seems to forget that it employs them all, and there should be no differentiation in pay when it comes to gender (and that includes paying men in these roles the same salaries as well).

What’s even more incredible is that if these employees worked for Glasgow City Council they’d have had their cash by now.

Quite why Edinburgh is taking this stance is puzzling. It has the money, or at least the permission to borrow the money from the Scottish Government, to meet the claims. And the longer it drags on, the more legal debate there is, the more costs there will be.

If it can find money for trams and for giant TV screens, then surely when it comes to its own staff, who have done nothing but work hard, then it should give them what they are due.

Forget appeals to London or even to Europe. Accept your responsibility as an employer, and pay these women what they are due and worth.

Put up hurdles

JUMPING through hoops is how many people describe the planning process in Edinburgh. Quite rightly, given the fact that it’s a World Heritage Site and its historic buildings a great tourist draw.

So quite why Lord Sebastian Coe thinks that his five Olympic rings will be allowed to burst the planning red tape and be dangled from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle is strange.

Even stranger is the fact that the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Games believes that the Castle was identified as “the right place” after discussions with the Scottish Government, Historic Scotland and the council – the very bodies that generally put the kybosh on anything that might detract historical significance.

Of course, it’s all about promoting the Olympics as a “national” event. But, let’s face it, they’re the London Olympics. While it will be a fantastic occasion, organisers will have to come up with something better to make the city feel part of the Olympiad.