SOUTH Yorkshire Fire Authority said it was legally entitled to pay tens of thousands of pounds in overtime to chief officers despite there being no overtime provision in nationally agreed terms and conditions.
But mystery surrounds how the payments came to be made when it appears no other chief officers anywhere else in the country have received the same benefits, with some services pointing to the expectation that the most senior staff are available for duty at any time and therefore couldn’t receive overtime pay.
South Yorkshire contended it was unlike most other services where more staff had been available for work during the strikes which meant its chief officers had to provide direct operational cover.
However, a spokesman for Merseyside Fire Service said: “The Chief Fire Officer and Deputy Chief Fire Officer provided operational response cover throughout the industrial action inclusive of riding fire appliances. They did not receive any additional payments over their basic salary, which assumes that they provide continuous availability.”
A further 15 services contacted, including the three others in Yorkshire, all said they had not paid overtime to chief officers.
South Yorkshire Fire Authority chairman, Jim Andrews, said he agreed the payments after an approach from the senior management team.
However, he doesn’t appear to have informed other authority members who only became aware after a Freedom of Information request from The Yorkshire Post revealed details of the payments. Asked when he approved the payments Coun Andrews said: “I can’t tell you the date, no. It will be dated somewhere.”
The chairman said he assumed the Freedom of Information response had provided a date but the response did not clarify when payments were approved. Asked whether other members of the authority were told, Coun Andrews said: “I honestly can’t remember, I don’t think so.”
Coun Andrews acknowledged he would approach approving such payments differently in future but added “...although I’m clear in my own mind it wasn’t a decision made up on the spot and it wasn’t a decision that shouldn’t have been made. I think it is over and above the job they are all paid for. It was brought to me for consideration. I considered it and made a judgment on it.”
The Freedom of Information response from the fire authority contended the industrial action “required senior officers to work overtime in accordance with nationally-agreed terms and conditions.”
However there is no overtime provision in chief officer terms and conditions which was perhaps underlined by the decision to pay senior officers at an area manager’s hourly overtime rate of £49.10. There are also question marks against the number of hours overtime chief officers were paid for. The payment of £14,390 to chief officer Jamie Courtney equates to just over 293 hours at £49.10 an hour while deputy chief Mark Shaw’s payment of £13,290 equates to nearly 271 hours.
The total number of hours lost to strikes in 2014/15 was 260 and 60 were in normal office hours.
The fire authority said chief officers were “required to work additional hours before and after each strike period… in order to complete safety critical tasks, such as equipment checks and role familiarisation with contingency crews in their command. Principal officers did not accrue overtime during normal office hours.”
The authority also said its constitution allowed for the payments to be made, partly under a power to take any necessary measures to maintain a service during a strike.