£120K Fire Chief pays back £3,000 of taxpayers' cash after backlash

By Jonny Bonell Wednesday 02 April 2014 Updated: 04/04 23:15

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Buy photos » Mark Yates is involved in a public row after spending £3,000 of taxpayers money on a private back operation. s

THE COUNTY'S chief fire officer has decided to pay back the £3,000 of taxpayers money he spent on a private operation.

Mark Yates issued the statement on Wednesday (April 2) on the back of the well-publicised controversy, which has drawn widespread criticism from both the fire service and the public.

He said: "The best interests of the service are always at the forefront of my mind and actions, and I believe that the issue is now detracting from the great work the service and all its staff do on a daily basis.

"I chose to have the operation undertaken privately because I was in severe pain but the authority also benefited from this as it minimised the time I was away from my duties leading the service and advising the authority.

"It has become apparent the payment I received has left some staff and members of the public disappointed.

"It was never my intention to cause such feelings and I do not wish for this matter to cause further controversy and potentially harm the great reputation of the service, I have therefore repaid the £3,000."

Despite earning £122,000-a-year the 50-year-old claimed more than half of the £5,090 cost of back surgery he underwent in October last year from the publicly funded fire authority.

In a message to councillors, authority chairman Derek Prodger MBE said: "It is within the conditions of service of all firefighters that 'a fire and rescue authority may, to such extent as it thinks fit in the interests of efficiency, reimburse an employee any charges or expenditure in respect of medical treatment'.

"Whether or not others agree with the decision that was taken, these documents clearly show that the Chief Fire Officer, Mark Yates, acted with integrity and openness throughout."

Mr Yates 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 the service to cover the treatment cost a month later.

Despite having to save £4million by 2016 and make cuts to crews, a group of four councillors, including the authority chairman and Coun Richard Udall, Labour group leader on Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Authority, discussed the payment back in November, with only Coun Udall voting against the proposal.

Coun Udall said: "This has been a difficult period for the authority and very difficult personally for the Chief Fire Officer and his family.

"He has and will continue to have my full support, he does a difficult job in very difficult times.

"However, the decision to help pay for his operation was a serious mistake.

"I strongly believe a public sector service should not be paying for its senior officers to have private health care treatment.

"The decision to repay the money is the right one and I pay tribute to Mark Yates for his decision, he has done the right thing."

Coun Peter McDonald, who criticised Mr Yates in last week's Standard, said: "My view on this is that he has done the right thing.

"I believe it was the only way forward."

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