South Yorkshire fire chiefs paid equivalent of £49 an hour for overtime during strikes

Chief Fire Officer of South Yorks James Courtney
Chief Fire Officer of South Yorks James Courtney

South Yorkshire’s fire chiefs were paid the equivalent of £49 an hour for overtime during strike action, figures show.

James Courtney received £14,390 for 293 hours of overtime during a series of strikes in 2014-15 – equating to a rate of £49.10 an hour and on top of his £185,000 yearly salary.

Deputy chief Mark Shaw, who is paid more than £100,000, received an extra £13,290 for 271 hours – equating to £49.04 an hour – and assistant chief John Roberts who also earns six figures received £11,520 for 235 hours – equating to £49.02 an hour.

The total number of hours clocked was 799, the equivalent of 99.8 eight-hour days.

Payments were made during a series of strike actions over pensions, when 260 hours in total were lost.

Now Lord Paul Scriven of Hunters Bar has asked the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills if the Government plans to change rules for public servants so that senior public officers who work during strikes do not get extra payments.

Lord Scriven said: “I think it is just staggering that someone who is earning a six figure sum can get overtime payments for dealing with emergency work which should be part of their duties so this is a question to make sure this can’t happen across public services for such highly paid officials.”

Earlier this week, it was confirmed an investigation into payments will examine whether they were lawful.

The external auditor to South Yorkshire Fire Authority, John Cornett of KPMG, is also delaying a scheduled sign-off of the 2014-15 annual accounts of the authority.

Payments were approved by authority chairman, Jim Andrews, but other members were unaware.

Mr Andrews has previously said it was the right decision to approve them because chief officers were being expected to do work outside their normal duties.

A South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue spokesman said: “The arrangements are being considered by the authority’s auditors and we will await the findings of that review.”

South Yorkshire is understood to be the only fire service in the country that paid its chief officers overtime for working during the strikes.

There were more than 40 strike periods where principal officers staffed fire engines and were in command of contingency crews.

Other fire services used part-time firefighters or middle ranking officers to meet their legal duty but South Yorkshire was not in a position to do so so chiefs had to provide direct operational cover.