AN investigation has been launched after The Yorkshire Post discovered overtime payments running into tens of thousands of pounds were made to chief fire officers already in receipt of salary packages worth up to £185,000.
Payments totalling nearly £40,000 were made to three senior officers with South Yorkshire Fire Service for working during strikes in 2014/15 but were not publicly recorded by the local fire authority.
They were personally approved by the authority’s chairman, Jim Andrews, deputy leader of Barnsley Council, but other authority members were not aware of the payments which were not discussed at meetings or identified in annual accounts.
Chief fire officer Jamie Courtney received an extra £14,390 on top of his £185,000 pay package while deputy chief Mark Shaw and assistant chief John Roberts, both paid well in excess of £100,000, received an extra £13,290 and £11,520 respectively.
It can also be revealed Mr Courtney and Mr Shaw, who retired at the end of March, were paid for more overtime hours than were actually taken up by the series of strikes over a pensions dispute which hit the service nationwide.
The fire authority said the overtime included carrying out critical tasks before and after strikes and insisted overtime had not been paid for working during normal office hours.
South Yorkshire is understood to be the only fire service in the country that paid chief officers overtime for working during the strikes.
More than 15 services across the country contacted by the Yorkshire Post confirmed no similar payments were made with some pointing out no overtime would be paid as chief officers are expected to be available for duty at any time throughout the year.
The Association of Principal Fire Officers, the chief officers’ union, defended the payments.
The Association said the work was outside normal duties but acknowledged it was unaware of any other service making such payments.
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Fire Service said it believed other services had made similar payments but could not confirm any specific examples.
Fire authority chairman Jim Andrews acknowledged there were question marks against the payments and said he was now referring them to auditors for investigation.
He said he could not recall when he approved them and could not recall whether other members of the fire authority – made up of representatives from the four South Yorkshire councils – were told.
But he did not think they were.
Coun Andrews added he believed it was right decision to approve the payments.
Colin Ross, an authority member and Lib Dem group leader on Sheffield Council, confirmed he wasn’t aware of the payments and they had not been discussed at authority meetings. The authority’s accounts record each chief officer’s pay as increasing but provide no explanation as to why.
He said auditors needed to investigate whether chief officers were entitled to the payments and how they were authorised.
“This is almost the equivalent of a year’s pay for some people,” said Coun Ross.
“We kept getting reports of how much the strikes were costing us and assumed it was for bringing in people who were trained up to provide cover.
“I certainly didn’t realise some of this money was being spent on senior officers.”