MP Steve Barclay claims Cambridgeshire Fire Authority has a “cavalier approach” to public money

Steve Barclay MP.

Steve Barclay MP. - Credit: Archant

MP Steve Barclay has accused Cambridgeshire fire authority of having “a cavalier approach to public money,” after it emerged that a second senior officer was given the option of returning to work after taking a pension payout.

Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg.

Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg. - Credit: Archant

Last month it was revealed that fire chief Graham Stagg retired with a salary and pension package of £200,000 and returned to work weeks later.

Mr Barclay says Mr Stagg’s assistant Neil Newberry was also given the option of a similar retirement plan, and seven other officers have benefitted from a re-engagement programme “at an undisclosed cost to the taxpayer”.

The North East Cambs MP claims that fire services in Cambridgeshire have “lost touch” with the public they serve.

“Senior officers appear able to play the system for their own benefit, at the direct expense of those they are charged with protecting,” he said.

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Reports of Mr Newberry’s offer of re-engagement angered the Fire Brigades Union. Cambridgeshire secretary Cameron Matthews said: “Cambridgeshire firefighters are livid with these revelations and the lack of accountability and transparency on show.

“While we’re fighting tooth and nail to protect our pensions, jobs and public safety, the fire authority is awarding such astronomical funds to senior staff in Cambridgeshire.

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“How can we believe government claims the pot is empty when such high sums can be found for senior staff?”

Sir Peter Brown, chairman of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority, says the fire service saved £36,000 by re-engaging Mr Stagg.

“However, these savings become greater when compared to the costs associated with employing a new chief fire officer,” he wrote in a letter to Mr Barclay.

Mr Stagg is currently receiving a salary with no pension contributions, said Sir Peter, and neither is he receiving his pension “albeit he did receive his lump sum.”

The letter from Sir Peter declines to give details of any pension pots, saying that such information is personal and covered by the Data Protection Act.

Mr Barclay said the re-engagement process has been described by the Fire Brigades Union as a “double-pay pension pay-off,” and it is right to raise questions about the value for money implications.

The MP added: “The issue here is not just officers receiving generous ‘golden parachute’ payouts only to be reinstated weeks later.

“The lack of transparency surrounding Graham Stagg’s return to his post also led Fire Minister Brandon Lewis to question why he was paid £168,000 last year, which is well above the recommended minimum of £94,638 for officers of his rank.

“That figure is even more eyebrow-raising when you consider that Mr Stagg is the fifth highest chief fire officer in the country when he is in charge of the twenty-fifth largest force,” he said.

Mr Barclay says the incoming chief of the NHS is expected to receive a salary of £189,000, when takes over a workforce of 1.4million.

He added: “There is clearly wild discrepancy in pay scales here, and Cambridgeshire taxpayers would be well within their rights to ask for an across the board review of salary and benefits paid out to fire service personnel, especially regarding the take-home pay of senior officers.”

Fire Minister Brandon Lewis MP wrote to Sir Peter Brown last week, welcoming news of the fire authority’s urgent review its pay policy procedures, but listed a number of outstanding concerns.

He complained there was no stand alone version of the fire authority’s pay policy statement available for the public to scrutinise, and there was no consideration of whether “this was now the right time for Mr Stagg or Mr Newberry to retire.”

Mr Lewis said he hoped review would “help restore public confidence in the authority’s processes.”

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