THE fire at the Glasgow School of Art has left the city and anyone with an affection for our heritage and our creative vitality absolutely devastated.

The support from far and wide has been overwhelming.

In the days ahead I will lead on how Team Glasgow will provide support to affected businesses, property owners and residents and begin the process of returning one of Scotland’s great thoroughfares to something approaching normality.

I will keep the public and all impacted abreast of any developments. But it is also vital we keep the work of the city council going during this upheaval.

Almost five months ago politicians from all parties represented on Glasgow City Council took the momentous decision to abandon litigation and resolve the decade-long equal pay dispute through negotiation.

It was the first instance of politicians in this country taking control of this fraught and complex matter.

We agreed with those representing claimants, trade union Unison and legal firm Action 4 Equality, which both led the legal action, and the GMB union, that, in the main, negotiations would remain confidential. But I also pledged that I would inform staff and our citizens when there was something significant to announce. We have reached that first real milestone.

At this stage, the structural requirements for a process as significant as this, the legal issues, the methodology, the job evaluation, are now falling into place. We are proceeding to the business end of the negotiations.

No-one was ever under any illusion that a resolution to equal pay would be quick or easy. And it hasn’t been. But there is now a real sense of momentum, a view that progress is being made and that we have something to tell those who matter most in this, our staff. And it is for our staff and the vital services they deliver that we need to collectively manage these negotiations.

Staff have now been informed that the council has agreed with the trade unions of the need to replace our current workforce pay and benefits system (WPBR). It is simply no longer fit for purpose.

In the coming days, and again in consultation with the trade unions, a report will be published ahead of next week’s City Administration Committee seeking the political authority necessary to abandon WPBR.

Work on a fairer replacement will commence immediately after that and continue over the summer. Once identified, it would be two or three further years before it could be fully implemented. We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of a decade ago and expose ourselves to fresh inequalities with another flawed system. This is what we are paying the price for. We need time to do this properly.

It is crucial to stress both my personal and the Council’s commitment to agreeing with the unions any new scheme and how it will be implemented.

And as Council Leader I am committed to implementing a fully funded, fair and just pay and grading scheme which pays equally for equal work and which our employees have confidence in.

In addition, we have recently agreed an overall plan with clear timescales for the completion of the various stages of the process and the Council remains committed to, as best as possible, agreeing a settlement figure by the close of this calendar year.

We will likely need two review points to ensure we’re on track and I am actively discussing how best to do this with officers.