We made errors over chief's £3,000 back op cash, admits fire authority chairman (From Worcester News)
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We made errors over chief's £3,000 back op cash, admits fire authority chairman
THE county's fire authority chairman has admitted mistakes were made over paying his chief officer £3,000 towards private back surgery - and has conceded he was not open or transparent enough.
Councillor Derek Prodger, who has been fiercely criticised for agreeing Mark Yates' payout behind closed doors, says "in hindsight" it was the wrong way to do it.
Speaking to angry councillors yesterday, he said if a similar request ever happens again he would be prepared to put it in front of fire authority members for a vote at an open meeting.
It came as Mr Yates made his first public appearance since the saga was first revealed in your Worcester News.
The chief fire officer, who earns £122,000 a year, refused to talk to the press about his back operation but Cllr Prodger, who signed it off, said lessons need to be learned.
During the debate councillors said the furore had "damaged the reputation" of the fire authority.
Speaking to the fire authority's police and resources committee, Cllr Prodger said: "In hindsight, perhaps it would have been wiser to record the decision and have it on the agenda today.
"It may be that if we ever have a request like it again, in the future we'll send it to the policy and resources committee instead."
Cllr Alan Amos, a fellow fire authority member, said: "There is an issue here, let's discuss it instead of covering it up.
"The fact the decision was made without people knowing about it has done real damage to the fire authority, I've been berated about it by the public when it's got nothing to do with me at all - we need some kind of a mechanism to avoid it happening again."
Cllr Prodger later said: "We should put decisions like this in front of more members, so more people are involved in it and not just group leaders."
As your Worcester News revealed on Monday, Cllr Prodger agreed it during a private meeting with three political group leaders back in October.
The session was not minuted, nor was the 25-member fire authority told about the payment.
Mr Yates decided to have a private back operation after being told an NHS one had a 12-week waiting list.
By the time of the pay-off decision the operation, which cost £5,090 in total, was already complete and he was back at work.
Mr Yates claimed the full amount but the small group of four councillors voted 3-1 in favour of giving him a 'partial payment'.
Cllr Prodger told the meeting he still thought it was "the right thing to do" to give him the cash.
The fire service says Mr Yates could have been off work for up to 12 weeks if he waited on the NHS, in which case it could have cost £8,500 in paying other staff to cover his duties.
MARK YATES REFUSES TO TALK - AS MORE DETAILS ON THE CASH EMERGE
MARK Yates refused to talk to your Worcester News yesterday - saying it was "inappropriate" to answer any questions.
The chief fire officer dodged attempts from the press to discuss the back operation, by saying fire authority chairman Councillor Derek Prodger had already defended the payout.
More details emerged around it yesterday, after councillors challenged staff about what pot of cash the money had come from.
Treasurer Martin Reohorn revealed a £10,000 cash kitty is stashed away for "this kind of spend" from the fire service's occupational health budget.
Under fierce questioning from Councillor Alan Amos, officers said it was the first time it had been dipped into in the current financial year.
Nigel Snape, a legal adviser, said: "There is no defined procedure for dealing with a matter like this, you have to be pragmatic about it.
"Clearly, it wasn't appropriate to be discussed by officers so it went to the chairman (Cllr Prodger) who decided to run it through group leaders, it was entirely appropriate."
He also confirmed he had a written record of the decision and the four people involved in making it, and that it will be recorded in the accounts as a 'benefit in kind'.
Independent Councillor David Taylor, the only one of the four to still deny any involvement in the decision despite his name being confirmed by the fire service, was at the meeting yesterday.
When challenged again by your Worcester News, he said: "My memory isn't as good as it used to be - but when I deal with confidential things like this, I tend to forget about it anyway."
Councillor Richard Udall, meanwhile, said he wants a fresh report to look into the powers available to Cllr Prodger and the authority's constitution.
He said: "Where we go in the future is very important - this is a governance issue.
"Let's move on and make sure it doesn't happen again in the future."
Mr Snape said he was prepared to take any suggested changes on board.
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