Retirement for Cambs chief fire officer under fire from MP for 'eye brow raising' salary and his bosses accused by another MP of 'sticking two fingers' up to Minister who challenged it
PUBLISHED: 11:42 10 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:42 10 December 2015
Fire chief Graham Stagg, whose bosses were described by Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson as "sticking two fingers up" to the minister who questioned his pay, is to retire.
Mr Stagg – once accused by another MP, Steve Barclay, of being paid an “eye brow raising” sum – will leave Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue at the end of the year.
Sir Peter Brown, chairman of the fire authority, said: “Graham has a lot to be proud of and I thank him for all he has done for our service and local communities over the last decade.”
Mr Stagg, who joined the Cambridgeshire service as assistant chief fire officer in 2004 after serving 22 years with London Fire Brigade, became chief fire officer in 2007.
In the three years to 2012 his pension and perks package totalled £200,000 annually – only dropping off since 2013 when he ceased to receive £35,000 annual contributions to his pension when he retired for the first time.
In 2014/15 he was paid a total of £170,000 that included a bonus payment of £12,500; three other senior directors received a combined bonus payment of £20,000.
Mr Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs, had previously questioned “the lack of transparency surrounding Graham Stagg’s return to his post that also led (the then) Fire Minister Brandon Lewis to question why he was paid a basic salary of £168,702 last year, (2012) which is well above the recommended minimum £94,638 for officers of his rank
“That figure is even more eyebrow-raising when you consider that Mr Stagg is the fifth highest paid chief fire officer in the country when he is in charge of the 25th largest force. To put that in context, the incoming chief of the NHS is expected to receive a salary of £189,000 when he assumes general oversight of a workforce of 1.4 million.”
Mr Stagg insisted this week that his Cambridgeshire force was “up there with the best in the country. But that’s not to get complacent and the next chief fire officer will face a different wave of challenges to lead staff through.”
Criticisms of his pay and bonuses package, however, continue with Mr Jackson questioning them again less than a fortnight ago during a public accounts committee meeting at the House of Commons.
Mr Jackson told the Parliamentary committee that bonuses and salaries at Cambs fire service had been linked “without any demonstrable performance indicators”.
He criticised the bonus structure within the fire service and questioned why a director of communications – “not even a fire-fighter” – was paid bonuses on top of a salary of £128,000.
In a BBC interview he said Mr Stagg, now retiring for a second time, had not been subject to proper scrutiny by the fire authority “and I think the relationship between senior elected councillors can be a little too close”.
He said when the situation with Graham Stagg was raised at the end of 2013, the minister Brandon Lewis wrote a tough letter to the authority asking why had they done this.
“Why have you broken your own policy?” said Mr Jackson. “Why didn’t you go through the correct procedure?”
Mr Jackson said within four months the fire authority “had done exactly the same thing with the assistant chief fire officer then stuck two fingers up to the minister; to me this is unacceptable”
Keith Handscomb, executive council member for the Fire Brigade Union in East Anglia, said he welcomed Mr Stagg’s retirement.
“This is the right decision for the professionals who deliver the service and for the public who we serve. A change of personnel at the top will provide a great opportunity to positively change the culture of our service”, he said.
He said his union had been critical of the ‘re-engagement’ of Mr Stagg by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) two years ago after he retired for the first time, drawing a lump sum and triggering pension payments.
“The then fire minister Brandon Lewis said it looked like a move to get around government pension changes,” said Mr Handscomb.
“CFRS has been dogged by poor morale amongst staff with a recent survey showing only 38 per cent of whole-time fire-fighters were satisfied with the leadership of the service and only 26 per cent said they trusted senior managers.”
The union boss said concerns have surrounded senior management at the service over the past few years with a number of reported failings.
“Two experimental fire appliances, purchased at a cost of £1.3million have failed repeatedly in their six years of service,” he said.
“Cuts in frontline fire stations, fire engines and fire-fighter numbers have led to slower 999-response times. It now takes Cambridgeshire fire-fighters on average 10 per cent longer to get to fires, according to the government’s own figures.”
But Sir Peter Brown believes the fire service in Cambridgeshire “has celebrated a large number of achievements during the time Graham has been leading it”.
He said: “There has been a significant drop in the number of fires and other incidents we attend and we are doing more with partners to help those most at risk in our community.
“We have saved £4.3 million as a result of the last comprehensive spending review without affecting frontline services and we remain one of the most cost effective fire and rescue services in the country.”
Mr Stagg said Cambs successes included “the first combined fire control centre in the country – a model that is now being followed by other fire and rescue services”.
He said the service had consistently been one of the lowest cost fire and rescue services in the country .and a new fire station had opened in Cambridge “at no cost to the public purse”.
Mr Stagg also said Cambs had saved £4.3 million “to match the funding cut from the last comprehensive spending review. Made the savings early and reinvested the money into frontline vehicles and equipment”.
Mr Jackson praised Mr Barclay for his earlier work challenging the pay and perks of senior fire officers in the county; two years ago the NE Cambs MP wrote to Sir Peter two years ago expressing his concerns.
Mr Barclay was critical of the decision to re-engage Mr Stagg “who had previously been paid a salary and pension package of around £200,000; we then learnt that his assistant fire chief Neil Newberry has been handed the option of a similar ‘retirement’ plan”.
The MP questioned a “revolving double-pay pension pay-off” that other officers had taken too.
He said: “The issue is not just officers receiving generous ‘golden parachute’ payouts only to be reinstated weeks later.”
Mr Barclay highlighted the “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 of senior officers.
“I have repeatedly highlighted Cambridgeshire Fire Authority’s cavalier approach to public money.”
Mr Barclay said the fire authority “has 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.”