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By Jonny Bonell Thursday 27 March 2014 Updated: 31/03 14:36
THE COUNTY'S fire service has been accused of double standards after it was revealed it spent £3,000 of taxpayers money on a private operation for their Chief Officer.
Despite earning £122,000-a-year Mark Yates claimed more than half of the £5,090 cost of back surgery he underwent in October last year from the publicly funded fire authority.
The 50-year-old was told he would have to wait 12 weeks to have the procedure carried out by the NHS, something he refused and instead went private, asking Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service to cover the treatment cost a month later.
Despite having to save £4million by 2016 and make cuts to fire crews it was agreed the lump sum would be paid, as well as £240 for his physiotherapy.
Steve Gould, secretary for the Fire Brigades Union, said: "The fire service can't operate on the principle of one rule for the chief and another for everyone else.
"He earns £120,000 a year and yet when we've asked for financial assistance to help firefighters overcome injury we've always been knocked back.
"If the brigade is serious about changing that policy now this has been exposed, then perhaps some good will come of this, but it's pretty hard to take at a time when we're facing £4million cuts and firefighters have even had their meal allowances cut."
A group of four councillors, including authority chairman Derek Prodger and Labour's Richard Udall, discussed the payment back in November last year with only Coun Udall voting against the proposal.
"His job pays well, he should be funding his own health care treatment if he wishes to do so and shouldn't be asking the taxpayer to do it," he said.
"I believe it is a fundamental mistake on behalf of those concerned and I would seriously hope they reconsider the situation.
"The public will be justifiably angry and distressed. I think members concerned, who made the decision, have perhaps learnt their lessons and as a consequence will look differently in the future."
But Coun Derek Prodger MBE, chairman of the authority, said: "The Fire Authority took the decision to make a payment towards the cost of the Chief Fire Officer’s back operation as it was at a time when the Authority was running a very detailed public consultation which affected the future of Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.
"As such a significant piece of work was taking place we felt it necessary to have the Chief Fire Officer back to work and fully fit as quickly as possible.
"We believe the NHS waiting list for the operation was around 12 weeks and if this had been the case the Authority would have needed to pay for another Chief Officer to cover the role, which would have been very costly to the Authority.”
The Standard attempted to speak to Mr Yates after a meeting of the Authority's Policy and Resources Committee but he said he did not have anything to add to the chairman's comments.
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