FIRE chiefs slammed for setting aside more than £400,000 to buy themselves new executive cars have reduced the amount they plan to spend by a third – but the revised bill has sparked further anger and concern.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s chief officer, Jamie Courtney, and two deputies Mark Shaw and Neil Hessell are each provided with a car as part of their terms employment – currently Audi A6s.
In April, it emerged they were planning to spend £120,000 next year on three cars, with £140,000 set aside to replace in 2016 and £150,000 three years after that, all at a time of station closures and staffing cuts.
The arrangement was blasted by members of the fire authority and the idea was sent back for more work, but yesterday the brigade admitted new plans would still see top brass getting cars worth £30,000 each every three years.
Paul Scriven, a former member of the fire authority, who lost his seat after being voted off Sheffield Council in May, led calls for the car scheme to be scrapped and said a revised £270,000 spending showed chiefs “didn’t get it”.
He added: “It’s nice to see that, despite the criticism, the chief officers will still be able to swan around in their Audis, BMWs and Mercedes, at the same time as ordinary citizens are having their fire stations closed.
“It is clear from this that the chief officers and members of the fire authority have their priorities wrong and it is time the fire authority woke up to the fact that senior officers do not need swanky cars.
“These cars are not funded out of their pockets but out of the pockets of hard-working council taxpayers in South Yorkshire.
“This is a gravy train they are on. Terms and conditions can be changed, that is what has been done to front line firefighters but the Labour fire authority seems to be supporting the chiefs over and above the workers.
“The fire authority should be pushing to change their terms and conditions.”
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue is currently facing a cut in Government grants of £4.7m by the end of this financial year and is also expecting reductions in its budget in later years of at least £5.3m.
Other Yorkshire brigades either lease a car equivalent to a Skoda Octavia saloon for their senior officers or provide cars to officers but expect them to run them for at least five years at a time.
Motoring expert and former BBC Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson said the situation in South Yorkshire was “nuts” and added: “Unless these cars are going to be doing lunar mileages they should last longer than three years.
“I hope the fire authority has looked at leasing deals and talked to the car makers, one of whom might actually lend them the cars at a very low price.”
A recent study by the independent Corporate Vehicle Observatory, which gathers data on the use of company cars, showed that as the recession bites, growing numbers of fleet managers are keeping cars for five or even six years.
John Gilliver, branch secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in South Yorkshire said front line fire engines were not replaced every three years – some were approaching their 10th birthday.
He said the figures for the cost of chiefs cars had also been hidden in the latest version of the brigade’s “vehicle strategy”, with the spending included with the bill for other operational vehicles.
Mr Gilliver added: “A few years ago the chief officers said they wanted to be open and transparent but they haven’t managed it on this occasion.
“Recently we held a meeting with the deputy chief officer who was asking staff to give up days off saying we all needed to make sacrifices in the face of spending cuts.
“What sacrifices are they making?”
A fire service spokesman said: “We continually review the provision of all service vehicles, and the vast majority of our planned expenditure is for the provision of vehicles for operational officers to respond to emergency incidents.
“The amount outlined for senior officer cars has been reduced significantly since 2005.”