South Yorkshire fire authority boss apologises for controversial overtime payments

South Yorkshire Fire Authority chairman Coun Jim Andrews
South Yorkshire Fire Authority chairman Coun Jim Andrews
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A fire authority boss has apologised for the way controversial payments were made to senior officials during firefighters’ strike action.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority chairman Jim Andrews apologised to members for not informing them about the payments.

Pictured is Deputy Chief Fire Officer of South Yorks Jamie Courtney

Pictured is Deputy Chief Fire Officer of South Yorks Jamie Courtney

The payments were unofficially and solely approved by Coun Andrews, without the knowledge of any other councillors on the panel.

An internal audit investigation found he did not have the power to authorise the payments but said legal advice concluded they were lawful.

South Yorkshire’s chief fire officer, Jamie Courtney, received an extra £14,390 on top of his £185,000 pay package in overtime payments for working during a series of strikes between September 2013 and February 2015.

Former deputy chief Mark Shaw and assistant chief John Roberts, both paid well in excess of £100,000 a year, received an extra £13,290 and £11,520 respectively.

Some of the firefighters who walked out on strike at the fire station in Eyre Street, Sheffield in 2013.

Some of the firefighters who walked out on strike at the fire station in Eyre Street, Sheffield in 2013.

It was also revealed Mr Courtney and Mr Shaw, who retired at the end of March last year, were paid for more overtime hours than strikes took up.

They have since agreed to repay the money.

A number of authority members, including audit committee chairwoman and Sheffield councillor Sioned-Mair Richards, said they were not aware of the payments.

Mr Andrews said ‘lessons needed to be learned’ but stressed nothing illegal had been done.

Sheffield councillor Steve Ayris, who sits on the SYFRA committee, had called for Mr Andrews to resign.

He said that even if the payments were technically lawful, authorising them outside of any public scrutiny was ‘immoral’.

But, following the meeting, Mr Andrews said he would not be resigning.

A special meeting of the authority’s audit committee on December 14 resulted in a list of recommendations after councillors expressed serious concerns about how the payments were made without their knowledge.

Mr Andrews said: “The reason overtime payments were paid was to ensure proper cover of the service by senior managers during the duration of the dispute.

“This was to ensure protection of the public and proper oversight of the contingency arrangements.

“I believe that previous precedent has been set and that delegated authority was in place for myself and for the chief fire officer to agree to this.

“It was also following advice from the CFO on what levels of cover were required to fulfil the public protection responsibilities we have.”

But the payments were not reported to fire authority members and Mr Andrews added that they should have been.

“I believe delegated authority was in place and assumed these actions would be appropriately reported,” Mr Andrews added.

“Clearly, with hindsight this was not done and should have been, with members given the opportunity to consider them.

“There are lessons for us to learn. I regret and I am sorry this process did not happen as it should and obviously for the uncertainty and damage to confidence that has resulted.

“I welcome the decision of the CFO to reimburse the service, albeit nothing unlawful took place, as the investigation has shown.

“The most important thing now is for the service and the committee to implement the audit committee’s recommendations and for us to rebuild trust and confidence that may have been lost.

“It’s my intention to ensure this work is implemented over the weeks and months ahead.”