Secret £250,000 fire service payout rings alarm bills

First published in Worcester Worcester News: Tom Edwards by , Political Reporter

QUESTIONS have been raised about the secrecy surrounding a decision to pay the region’s former deputy chief fire officer £250,000 amid claims of sexual discrimination.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance says it is deeply worried about the lack of transparency surrounding the decision by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.

As reported in your Worcester News yesterday, Lucy Phillips left the service in August with a quarter-of-a-million pound payout.

It has now been revealed that a confidentiality agreement was agreed by both the authority and Mrs Phillips at the time of the settlement.

The 48-year-old from Worcester lodged a claim for sexual discrimination after being refused promotion to chief fire officer. It is believed her claim involved that decision and her subsequent treatment.

But her payoff, which also included pension payments and a private out-of-court settlement, was decided upon by Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority members in a behind-closed-doors meeting kept secret from the public.

Matthew Sinclaire, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s deeply worrying that a huge sum of taxpayers’ money had been paid out in this case, and what’s worse is that those who are actually footing the bill don’t know why.

“Until we see proper transparency, questions will remain about this agreement, and whether it’s covering up some sort of failing or wrongdoing within the authority.

“Ultimately, fire chiefs need to be accountable over how they use, or misuse, taxpayers’ money.

“The secrecy of this pay-out is preventing that.”

The fire authority says it agreed to the settlement after advice from its lawyers, who warned that taking the complaint to tribunal could end up costing more money.

Councillor Brigadier Jones, deputy chairman of the fire authority, yesterday defended the private settlement.

He said: “We took legal advice over it and that was the decision we came to. She took early retirement and we followed all the correct procedures – we are satisfied everything was done correctly and I totally refute what the Taxpayers’ Alliance has said.”

A memo was e-mailed to all the members of the fire authority on Thursday reminding them “the matter remains confidential”.

Yesterday your Worcester News handed in a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see the confidential documents surrounding the decision.

Comments (6)

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12:22pm Sat 13 Oct 12

Hack says...

Nice one WN. It would be interesting to see how and where this figure was reported in the annual statement of accounts the authority is required to publish.
Nice one WN. It would be interesting to see how and where this figure was reported in the annual statement of accounts the authority is required to publish. Hack
  • Score: 0

2:08pm Sat 13 Oct 12

Doogie 46 says...

Confidentiality agreements usually mean someone has something to hide, or at least be embarrased about.
In view of the enormity of the settlement, (always seems to be the case in the public sector) the taxpayers have a right to know how strong a case this lady really had or if the Fire Service just took the easy option.
Confidentiality agreements usually mean someone has something to hide, or at least be embarrased about. In view of the enormity of the settlement, (always seems to be the case in the public sector) the taxpayers have a right to know how strong a case this lady really had or if the Fire Service just took the easy option. Doogie 46
  • Score: 0

2:26am Sun 14 Oct 12

St Jon says...

Retiring at 48... that's 20 years earlier than most of the ratepayers who will donate every last penny of her wedge. But rest assured its 'all done correctly', by Fire Brigade standards. Remember that next time they plead for public sympathy while trotting off on strike over pensions.
Retiring at 48... that's 20 years earlier than most of the ratepayers who will donate every last penny of her wedge. But rest assured its 'all done correctly', by Fire Brigade standards. Remember that next time they plead for public sympathy while trotting off on strike over pensions. St Jon
  • Score: 0

12:41pm Sun 14 Oct 12

Frank13 says...

We don't need to know when every single public sector employee moves on. Not everyone fits into the job they get. Someone who is not suitable in one role may do perfectly well in another & we don't draw attention publicly to them.

But in this case, if Ms.Phillips suffered discrimination then we do need transparency to ensure that it doesn't happen again with consequent high payout of taxpayer's money.
We don't need to know when every single public sector employee moves on. Not everyone fits into the job they get. Someone who is not suitable in one role may do perfectly well in another & we don't draw attention publicly to them. But in this case, if Ms.Phillips suffered discrimination then we do need transparency to ensure that it doesn't happen again with consequent high payout of taxpayer's money. Frank13
  • Score: 0

12:16am Mon 15 Oct 12

Tony Pingree says...

Sounds a bit fishy this one.

Why the confidentiality agreement?

If this did happen then whoever cost the Fire Service £1/4 million by breaking the law should be sacked.
Sounds a bit fishy this one. Why the confidentiality agreement? If this did happen then whoever cost the Fire Service £1/4 million by breaking the law should be sacked. Tony Pingree
  • Score: 0

8:46am Mon 15 Oct 12

green49 says...

Freedom of information i think needs to be asked for? as the taxpayer is entitled to know more about this? How about asking Mr Walker to represent us on this? Oh but he's on a jolly in China paid for by us isn't he?
Freedom of information i think needs to be asked for? as the taxpayer is entitled to know more about this? How about asking Mr Walker to represent us on this? Oh but he's on a jolly in China paid for by us isn't he? green49
  • Score: 0

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