THE county's top fire chief has paid back the controversial £3,000 for his private back operation.

Mark Yates has returned the money to the public purse after admitting it upset taxpayers, disappointed his own staff and could "harm the reputation of the fire service".

On a day of dramatic developments yesterday, your Worcester News can also reveal:

- The four councillors who made the decision were pre-warned by the fire service before their vote that no money would be saved from it

- They were also pre-warned by a legal adviser that it would "create a precedent" as no fire service worker had been given taxpayers' cash for private medical treatment before

- Mr Yates emailed the fire service nearly one month before he was paid, telling them he intended to go private even if he did not get a penny from taxpayers, due to the "degree of pain" he was suffering

- The full email, which was sent on September 25, said he wanted to "merely ask the question" about claiming it back and would accept whatever was decided

- Both the email Mr Yates sent and a prepared briefing sheet for the four councillors, listing the pros and cons of saying yes or no, has now been published by the fire service

As your Worcester News exclusively revealed on Monday, March 24 Mr Yates, who earns £122,000 a year, had the back surgery in October after deciding to bypass NHS waiting lists, paying £5,090 for it.

He asked the fire authority to pay towards his bill on expenses, and on Monday, October 21, 20 days after the surgery, he got £3,000.

The meeting involved just four of the fire authority's 25 councillors, it was not minuted and the rest of the members were not told.

After it came to light in a Freedom of Information request from your Worcester News, the fire service claimed it saved money.

Councillor Derek Prodger, one of the four who was in the meeting, said the NHS wait could have been up to 12 weeks, and another officer would have therefore required extra payments to cover Mr Yates' duties.

A statement was put out in Cllr Prodger's name saying it "saved the authority £8,500 in payments to other staff" but that has now been contradicted by yesterday's developments.

Cllr Prodger did not return calls from your Worcester News yesterday.

Mr Yates said: "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."

Mark Yates on why he returned the money

MARK Yates has finally broken his silence over his back surgery saga - saying he decided to go private after finding it "impossible to function".

The county's chief fire officer has released a statement saying the public uproar since we revealed the payment led in part to his u-turn.

It also emerged yesterday that his operation took place at Worcester's Spire South Bank Hospital.

By September last year he went to see a surgeon who told him he was suffering a ruptured disc in his lower back.

Mr Yates said: "Over the course of the last week a great deal of media coverage and public debate has been given to the fire authority's decision to contribute towards an operation I required last year.

"Up until now I have refrained from making any comment on this matter because to do so would require me to reveal confidential details of my personal health, and because I did not think it appropriate to comment on a decision taken by my employer relating to me.

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

"Last September as a result of a prolapsed and ruptured disc in my lower back, and over a period of time, it became impossible for me to function from a professional and personal perspective.

"On advice of a consultant orthopaedic surgeon the best option available to me was to have corrective surgery, the removal of part of one of my vertebral discs.

"At that time the service was in the middle of some difficult issues, including periods of strike action, possible collaborative working with Warwickshire and consulting on the service's community risk management plan including a fire cover review.

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

He went on to say after the operation, on Tuesday, October 1, he was off sick for three days and then spent 17 days working from home on a modified schedule.

He returned to full duties on Monday, October 21, which is when the secret decision was made to pay him.

Mr Yates added: "As permitted by the conditions of service for alI uniformed staff I asked whether the authority would consider making a contribution towards these medical costs.

"However, 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."

He also said he wants to "bring this matter to an end".

Calls for Derek Prodger to resign

THE county's fire authority chairman is facing calls for his resignation - as well as the other two councillors who made the decision.

Councillor Richard Udall, Labour group leader on the authority, says he is "very concerned about the reputation of the fire service" and wants someone else in charge.

He also says independent Councillor David Taylor and Brigadier Peter Jones should also quit.

During the private meeting Cllr Udall was the only one to record his vote against the decision.

"I'm very concerned about the reputation of the fire service and don't believe Derek Prodger should be at the helm of it," he said.

"The other group leaders who also supported the decision were wrong to do so.

"I hope they will now understand the public anger and frustration their decision caused. "They now need to consider their own response to the situation they caused."

Cllr Udall also said Mr Yates still has his "full support", despite calling his expenses claim "a serious mistake".

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

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

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

Cllr Taylor admitted for the first time he was involved in the decision yesterday, after nearly two weeks of denying any memory of it.

He said: "I remember very well what was said at that meeting, but I don't want to get involved.

"It was a private and confidential matter and I have no intention of ever talking about it. If other people want to talk, they can talk."

Cllr Jones said he was "surprised" Mr Yates paid the money back, and also rejected the attacks on him.

"Look, we know it probably wasn't the best way to make that decision, which is why the procedures are being changed so it won't happen again," he said.

"It looks much worse than it actually is."

Steve Gould, Fire Brigades Union secretary for Worcestershire said: "Mark Yates has done the right thing here, he's seen the public opinion.

"It was naive for him to have asked for it in the first place.

"It's damaged the fire service's reputation, no question.

"But hopefully paying it back will undo some of the damage."

Cllr Prodger did not respond to calls from your Worcester News.

So what DID happen in that private meeting?

FULL details of exactly what happened during the infamous secret meeting can today be revealed - after the fire service decided to publish a confidential briefing paper handed to councillors.

On Monday, October 21 four senior fire authority members voted 3-1 to hand Mr Yates £3,000.

During the debate, which was not minuted, they were handed a sheet of pros and cons prepared by an in-house adviser.

It clearly stated that whatever decision they came to, no money would be saved as Mr Yates' operation had already happened.

The sheet, labelled 'confidential', says the NHS wait would likely have been "approximately" 8-10 weeks, rather than the 12 Cllr Derek Prodger referred to last week.

It then says "however, Mark decided to have the operation privately", costing £5,090 and that the chief fire officer wants the authority to "pay for or contribute towards" the bill.

It says the "request was made before the operation was carried out", with an email going from Mr Yates to his staff requesting expenses for it on Wednesday, September 25.

The entire email has also been published, where Mr Yates says he is "effectively housebound" and unable to sit in a car.

He told the service he went to see a consultant surgeon, who told him he needed surgery due to a ruptured disc in his lower back that was getting progressively worse.

He says the surgeon put him on an NHS waiting list, but he was told a "minimum wait" is eight to 10 weeks.

Mr Yates then said due to the massive pressures at the fire service at that time, including the need to make £4 million of cuts, possible strike action and work to collaborate with Warwickshire, he wanted to get back quicker.

He wrote "I am always honest and transparent, especially about money matters so I need to say that come what may I will be going private as I cannot take this pain and dis-functionality for 10 weeks or more", and "nor should the service".

He then says: "I will merely ask the question and accept whatever answer comes back to me."

After the operation he had three sick days and another 17 days working from home before returning to work on Monday, October 21 - the day of the private meeting about paying him.

In September he was also known to be working from home, saying in the email he was on drugs to combat some of the pain.

Cllr Prodger left a note on the fire service's website yesterday saying he had given it "proper consideration".

But the list of cons shows his explanation of last week, where he released a statement claiming it "saved the authority £8,500 in payments to other staff" is incorrect.

The listed pros and cons were as follows:


- As a result of paying privately Mr Yates would be back at work "8-10 weeks sooner than would otherwise have been the case"

- There is a "compelling argument to having him back at work as soon as possible", citing pressures like the budget cuts and collaboration with Warwickshire - He has "a unique leadership role within the organisation"

- Officers have "previously assumed private medical treatment was something we were prepared to consider in appropriate cases", although it says there is no formal policy for it

- Had he waited for NHS treatment, "the cost of paying an honoraria for officers to 'act up'" would have been £8,500


- The fire service has not paid for private medical treatment in the past for staff - This would "therefore create a precedent, we would need to apply the same criteria in any future cases"

- He had already "decided to have the operation privately, regardless of whether the authority would pay for it" due to his pain - The "benefits and savings associated for private treatment will therefore be achieved anyway"

- There is a "potential for adverse publicity"

- You would be "creating a precedent in favour of a senior manager"

- You would be "making a payment at the same time as consulting on possible station closures"

- It also mentions "appropriateness of a public authority paying for private medical treatment" as a final concern