Outrage over fire pensions

THE eyewatering pension entitlements being accrued by Humberside’s senior fire officers are indicative of the growing divide between the public and private sectors.

However, such generous payments also illustrate the gulf between the amounts paid to staff at the lower end of local authority pay grades and their senior managers.

It is not the fault of the officers concerned that they are the financial beneficiaries of changes to Humberside Fire and Rescue Service’s management structure that has resulted in a series of temporary promotions being put in place.

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These were signed off by the fire authority who then gave the brigade’s temporary chief delegated powers to make such decisions with due regard to employment law and good practice.

Nevertheless, it is unjust that a short-term appointment of just two months can then skew an individual’s pension pot so dramatically. As Dr Ros Altmann, the respected pensions expert and Yorkshire Post contributor, makes clear, an “air of unreality” surrounds the long-term financial consequences of these temporary promotions.

Indeed, it may have been cheaper for Humberside to appoint just one fire chief on a short-term contract than place an even greater burden on local taxpayers when there are concerns about cuts to front-line services.

It is welcome, therefore, that the Government is implementing changes that will see an individual’s entitlement determined by their average salary throughout their career rather than one exaggerated payment.

Neither the Government, nor local authorities, are in a position to maintain the status quo when they are sitting on combined pension deficits that run into the hundreds of billions.

Given how successive governments have paid insufficient regard to Britain’s escalating pensions crisis, it is inevitable that fire authorities – like Humberside – are prepared to exploit these loopholes.

Yet, if Ministers have any common sense, they will now review the whole issue of temporary contracts within the public sector, and the knock-on effects for pensions. It will be too late in Humberside’s instance, but it might – just – ensure that some financial realism governs such employment decisions in the future.