The North East law firm that has led the fight for equal pay for women in the region has been placed into voluntary liquidation.
Newcastle’s Stefan Cross Solicitors has won back millions of pounds for female public sector workers, earning the man at its helm the coveted Honorary Queens Council award earlier this year.
However, Mr Cross said the company’s work had now reached a “natural conclusion”, its negotiations with councils meaning it had essentially “run out of cases”.
It will therefore be wound down by next month, with the loss of 15 jobs. No new clients will be taken on, but ongoing claims against Sunderland City Council will be completed.
“We’ve got what we think are really good deals for our clients, while other solicitors and their clients are still waiting,” Mr Cross said.
“That’s good news for the clients, but not good news for us.
“We’ve split the business between England and Scotland for several years and the English cases have pretty much reached the end of their natural life, but I’m still involved in thousands of cases in Scotland through separate legal firms.”
Having trained as a solicitor in Bournemouth, Mr Cross moved to Newcastle in 1986, remaining with Thompsons’ Solicitors for 17 years.
During his time with the company, he got involved with equal pay cases in Cleveland, which largely centred around pay for dinnerladies.
When, by 2002, the issue was still far from resolved, Mr Cross decided the unions were not pursuing it with sufficient fervour and set up his own company.
It was hard going at first, but went on to thrive, at one stage employing over 50 people.
For around the last eight years, it has focussed solely on equal pay, making Mr Cross a hero to many but a villain to some.
In 2007, the then-Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin lambasted him in parliament as a parasite who was costing taxpayers millions.
“There have been low moments, but that’s very much been balanced by the fantastic letters and stories we’ve received from clients who have had successful outcomes,” Mr Cross said.
“I believe in what I’m doing – it’s been a life-time project.”
The company went on to set up a separate office in Scotland to make it easier to work across two different legal systems.
Around 20 people are now employed at the Fox & Partners office in Edinburgh and Mr Cross said there are numerous significant cases there, including some major appeals, that he will be involved in.
“I have mixed feelings about the situation,” he said. “I’m glad we’ve achieved what we’ve achieved – there have been over 250,000 equal pay settlements as a result of what we’ve done, with ï¿½2bn already being paid back as a consequence, and that would not have happened without the work we have done.”
The job losses, however, were regrettable, as was the fact that discrimination was continuing.
“The great disappointment has been the efforts made by employers to maintain the advantageous position of men over women,” Mr Cross added. “That’s been the big fight.
“A lot of women have ended up with settlements, but ways have been found to continue the discrimination in terms of the pay differential.”
A notice published in the London Gazette yesterday said Eric Walls of KSA Group Ltd’s Team Valley office had been appointed as liquidator.
All creditors will be paid and have until November 30 to put forward details of claims or debts.