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By Jonny Bonell Friday 28 March 2014 Updated: 28/03 09:02
THE COUNTY’S fire service has been accused of double standards after it was revealed it spent £3,000 of taxpayers' money on a private operation for the chief officer.
Despite earning £122,000-a-year Mark Yates claimed more than half of the £5,090 cost of back surgery he underwent in October last year from the publicly funded fire authority.
The 50-year-old was told he would have to wait 12 weeks to have the procedure carried out by the NHS, something he refused and instead went private, asking Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service to cover the treatment cost a month later.
Despite having to save £4million by 2016 and make cuts to fire crews it was agreed the lump sum would be paid, as well as £240 for his physiotherapy.
Steve Gould, secretary for the local Fire Brigades Union, said: “The fire service can’t operate on the principle of one rule for the chief and another for everyone else.
“He earns £120,000 a year and yet when we’ve asked for financial assistance to help firefighters overcome injury we’ve always been knocked back.
“If the brigade is serious about changing that policy now this has been exposed, then perhaps some good will come of this, but it’s pretty hard to take at a time when we’re facing £4million cuts and firefighters have even had their meal allowances cut.”
A group of four councillors, including fire authority chairman Derek Prodger and Labour’s Richard Udall, discussed the payment back in November last year with only Coun Udall voting against the proposal.
“His job pays well, he should be funding his own health care treatment if he wishes to do so and shouldn’t be asking the taxpayer to do it,” he said.
“The public will be justifiably angry and distressed. I think members concerned, who made the decision, have perhaps learnt their lessons and as a consequence will look differently in the future.”
Coun Prodger said at the time the authority was running a detailed public consultation on the future of the service and it was necessary to have the chief fire officer back to work and fully fit as quickly as possible.
“We believe the NHS waiting list for the operation was around 12 weeks and if this had been the case the authority would have needed to pay for another chief officer to cover the role, which would have been very costly.”
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