HOTEL bills of between £7,000 and nearly £17,000 paid for on South Yorkshire Fire Service credit cards included taxi bills of up £100 and dinner bills of more than £40 per person.
Receipts from the Marina Hotel in Kuwait City showed dinner and lunch typically cost between £30 and just over £40 per person while there were also a number of payments for taxis of between £60 and £100.
Spending at the Marina Hotel in Kuwait City reached a total of £45,902.46 over a period of just seven weeks last year when staff were sent to provide training to local firefighters.
It is unclear why the service did not consider a short-term rent of an apartment in Kuwait. The official explanation of the spending has provided a confused picture with the service initially indicating the spending had resulted in a profit for a recently-formed trading arm, called South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Safety Solutions Ltd. Revenue was stated to be “around £107,000”.
A spokesman said: “In 2013 we established a trading arm which is able to participate in commercial contracts. This brings in revenue which can be used by the Service to offset the ongoing austerity cuts and help protect emergency services to the South Yorkshire public. We invested in upgrading facilities at our training centre in Handsworth and have been successful in winning contracts to train firefighters from Kuwait and Qatar.
“The Kuwaiti fire service was so impressed with the quality of our training they commissioned us to provide further training to their firefighters in their own domestic environment.”
However, when asked why spending and revenue from the Kuwait venture had gone through the books of the fire service, officials back-tracked and stated the work had been carried out on a strictly cost-only basis.
Fire services are legally not able to offer services on a purely commercial basis but local fire authorities can set up separate companies which can sell services, such as training, with the aim of ploughing profit back into the local service.
A later statement said: “The trading arm had not been formally set up and constituted at the time this contract became available. Therefore it was decided to offer this training on a non-profit basis through the Service to help to establish our market and hopefully build the possibility of future work for the trading arm.”
But Companies House records show the company was incorporated on 13 November 2013, while the first training course in Kuwait began more than two months later on 26 January 2014.
The service ran three courses each spanning a separate 12-day period between January 26 and March 13 last year. Four trainers were sent for two of the courses and two for the other.
Credit card statements showed that a further £1353.08 was spent at the JW Marriott Hotel in Kuwait in September 2013 when two staff travelled over on a fact-finding trip.
A spokesman pointed out the bills did not include any alcohol and said all spending had been properly accounted for.
The credit card statements also showed senior fire officers had spent large amounts on food from a wide variety of restaurants and fast food outlets when firefighters had been on strike.
Between November 2013 and November last year, during which there a relatively small number of short-term strikes, nearly £5,000 was spent at the likes of McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos plus local curry houses and Chinese takeaways.
The bills included £146.45 and £111.40 at the Shapla Tandoori in Sheffield, £130 and £135 at the Kebabish, also in Sheffield, and £100 at a Dominos pizza takeaway.
There were 12 more bills of more than £50 at Dominos plus a spend of £86 at the Talbot Inn in Barnsley.
The spending angered the South Yorkshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union. Chairman Graham Wilkinson said: “At a time when we are seeing unprecedented cuts to the fire and rescue service, stations are being closed, fire appliances are being reduced, yet management appear to be wasting money by supporting strike breakers by taking them out for meals.
“Firefighters within South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue whether retained or wholetime will be amazed by the fact that this is happening, especially after cooks have removed from all fire stations and firefighters now either cook their own meals, heat food up in a microwave or bring in a sandwich. Management do not pay for the food for these firefighters so why would they do it for contingency workers?”
A fire service spokesman said temporary staff brought to cover during strikes were based at locations without cooking facilities.
“Logistically, enabling them to buy food from commercial outlets is the best way to facilitate them eating at appropriate times in between attending incidents,” he added.
Humberside chiefs racked up bills at Ikea and on Christmas cards
NEARLY £1,400 was spent on bills of up to £269 for a four-star hotel near Buckingham Palace paid for on Humberside Fire Service credit cards.
A further £3,865 was spent at IKEA in two spends on the same day, £507 in a single spend on corporate Christmas cards plus numerous bills at restaurants and other food outlets including one for £201 at an Italian restaurant and another for £115 at an Indian takeaway.
The service insisted all spending was legitimate but stopped short of explaining a number of specific transactions in 2013 and 2014 on the grounds it would take too long to check.
Humberside also said three quotes were usually required when a spend above £500 was made but said it wasn’t feasible to check transactions to see if quotes had been obtained.
Individual payments of £2,015 and £1,850 were made to IKEA in February last year, while £1,374 was paid to UK Shopping Mall Ltd to pay for candelabras for a community awards event the year before.
A spokesman said the payments to IKEA were for furniture while the spending on candelabras was covered by sponsorship for the event.
A management consultant received £1,231 in a single payment, while bills for clothing from M and M Direct topped £600 while £507 was spent with CCA Occasions Ltd on corporate Christmas cards.
The spend of £201 at the San Luca Italian restaurant in Hessle, near Hull, was unexplained while a spokesman said the £115 spent at the Shahi Mahal takeaway in Grimsby was on food for temporary staff drafted in to cover a strike day. Records showed numerous other spends at pubs and food outlets both in the Humberside area and beyond, including McDonalds, .
The circumstances of meal spending were not fully clarified by the service. A spokesman did say evening meals up to a value of £9.54 could be claimed if employees were away from their usual place of work with any extra expected to be reimbursed.
There were also payments of £269 and £239 to the four-star Rubens Hotel, near Buckingham Palace.
A spokesman said service guidance was to try to find a hotel for £85 or less per night outside London and £120 per night in the capital. He said it was acknowledged this wasn’t always possible depending on availability.
Coun John Briggs, chairman of Humberside Fire Authority, said: “I am confident that all financial transactions undertaken by staff at Humberside Fire and Rescue Service are appropriately scrutinised and that if there were any inappropriate or excessive spending, this would be thoroughly investigated.”