“No Mean City” is a 1935 novel. Describing life in Glasgow’s Gorbal’s district and the razor gangs, it painted a grim picture of violence and deprivation. It took generations for the city to lose this image, and today the Gorbals is now quite a trendy area with upmarket flats, restaurants and a theatre area.
But does Glasgow still deserve the “no mean city” epithet? Thousands of women employed by the city council will say that it does. And why should this be so?
It’s because many of these women, due equal pay awards from the city council, have had large amounts reduced to pay for council tax arrears. The Glasgow Herald reported on 5 July 2019 that 2,000 women are, in total, to have a staggering £10 million deducted from their awards. And, of those 2,000 women, around 200 will receive nothing at all because their debts, due to the council for their council tax arrears, will exceed what they would have received for their wage losses.
The irony is, of course, that many of the women would not have been in arrears had they received the correct pay in the first place. Apparently, lawyers representing the women tried to persuade the council to adopt a more conciliatory approach. However, this has fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, it has been reported that the council tried to recover these arrears, sometimes by instructing sheriff officers, even though they knew that the equal pay offers would cover the council tax arrears.
The council has responded by saying that the methods used were standard practice and agreed by all of the parties as a method of resolving the equal pay dispute. However, a senior lawyer representing the women has said that whilst there is no issue with acknowledging that these debts are due, the problem is how the council “has gone about it and its lack of flexibility and empathy with people in difficult circumstances”.
To a large extent, the council has accentuated the positive by stressing that “hundreds of millions of pounds will find its way into the pockets and purses of people who earned it and who always should have had it”.
Whilst justice has been done by settling the equal pay dispute, it does seem a little over the top to send sheriff officers to collect debt which the council knew was going to be paid for by deducting what was due from the equal pay award. However, the council has said that this only happened in situations when the collection process was underway. Some sanguine commentators may say it is an example of the council’s right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. There is little doubt that a good number of the women will have sour taste in their mouths following the successful conclusion of the pay award. As for Glasgow being a “no mean city”, why not come and visit us – you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!