The news that Reading Borough Council has lost an Employment Tribunal over its failure to implement equal pay under a Labour administration and that it took a no-win no-fee lawyer to do so is not only a major embarrassment to the Reading Labour Party but a damning indictment of the council's unions that are meant to represent low paid staff.
For over 12 years Labour knew that there was a problem, it was an agenda item in 1998 on the then equivalent of the Personnel Committee. So what did they do about it? Bugger all, that's what.
Labour swept it under the carpet each year because they needed the money they had earmarked in the previous year's budget to balance their appalling record in managing the in-year budget rather than to pay staff what they were due.
To give some idea of the scale of the problem, in 2009 they had put aside over £2m to pay equal pay. They didn't implement it then which means that staff who were not paid it are entitled to claim all that that £2m now. Except it's worse than that because many of these cases go back for many more years than 2009.
Labour knew that they were liable to pay out this money and compounded the problem by dragging out the implementation of equal pay even when they knew all about the increasing year on year risk. It took Labour to lose control of the council before staff finally got equal pay and that was against the backdrop of opposition from their unions.
We can see that Labour clearly knew they didn't have a leg to stand on because their last budget saw the council put £3m into its reserves to hedge against losing the tribunal cases. But in typical Labour fashion they used an accounting trick in the Local Authorities Capital Finance and Accounting Regulations and they didn't put any real money aside, it was a dodge. Put simply, they took the risk that if the cases were found against the council, they could add it to the £200m debt they already owed by capitalising it.
Well, the chickens have come home to roost.
I would estimate the total liability Labour left the council tax payer with is nearer to £8m. That would require a 13% increase in council tax to pay for their previous years' negligence. Of course, Labour would be banned from increasing council tax by that amount so the inevitable consequence of their previous in-actions will be massive cuts to compensate.
Remember that when Labour start to slash services to pay for these claims. This is not down to the coalition, the greedy bankers or any "ideological reform" of public services. It is down to more than 12 years of burying their heads in the sand, fiscal irresponsibility and a supine set of local union leaders.
Disgracefully the unions were against inplementing equal pay. We know that because Unison said: "the trades unions have not agreed to any part of the Pay and Grading (P & G) scheme" and so equal pay had to be implemented by the coalition over their heads.
The sad aspect of this, for someone like me who is a great believer in effective union representation, is that the lesson for council staff is that they best represented by a no-win no-fee lawyer rather than those who take their union subs under false pretences and not only lick Labour's boots but still give them the money to buy those boots.
If council staff require effective representation, it's clear that it's no good asking the unions to act. they had over 12 years to do so and failed. Staff could no worse than cancel their union subs and start looking at the no-win no-fee adverts on telly. In fact I would encourage all staff to put in a claim now, if they haven't already, and demand what the law says they are entitled to. It's Labour's mess, let's see them clear it up themselves.
At least we can be grateful that Labour have finally started being honest about the real funders of their local party. In a new submission to the Electoral Commission, the address of the largest donor to the Reading & District Labour Party has listed their address as being: Civic Centre, RG1 7AE.
A long awaited admission that the council tax payer really does fund the local Labour Party.