Campaigners anger over chief fire officers pay

Des Prichard
Des Prichard

CAMPAIGNERS trying to save the Ridge Fire Station from being downgraded are furious after learning the county’s chief fire officer earned more than the Prime Minister last year.

Des Prichard, who has been in the job for 12 years, was paid £151,858 in total in salary, fees and allowances.

His basic salary is £134,000.

Deputy Gary Walsh, who is paid £109,000, was in the hot seat on Wednesday night at the Hastings Centre on The Ridge.

It was the first public meeting organised by the Fire Authority as part of a consultation process which runs until December 12.

But Mr Prichard told the Observer the consultation over the Ridge station was purely operational and “nothing to do with finances.”

Prime Minister David Cameron takes a salary of £142,500, almost £10,000 less than Mr Prichard.

Among those firing questions at Mr Walsh at the Hastings Centre, was Sarah Owen, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate.

Ms Owen asked the Fire Authority panel: “How can you justify paying the chief fire officer more than the Prime Minister?”

Ms Owen told the Observer she did not receive a response explaining her question at the meeting.

A storm of controversy has been raging since September when the Authority announced a public consultation process to consider the possible downgrading of The Ridge station.

The authority is trying to make savings of £1.9 million over the next two years.

Currently it pays assistant chief fire officer Gary Ferrand £106,000 and assistant chief officers Diana Williams and Cheryl Rolph £84,000 each.

Around 60 people turned up to the centre to voice their concerns about the future of the station.

Among them was Phil Bailey, 24, who founded the Save Our Fire Station campaign.

He said: “I was shocked to hear that the chief fire officer is earning so much.

“It just does not seem to make sense. How can this be right if they are trying to make savings?

“There are some members of our campaign who have said they will stop paying their council tax. That is the only way that they are going to get their message across.

“If the authority has to save money then it should be made from the vast salaries of some of principal officers.”

County councillor Phil Scott, a member the Fire Authority, said: “It is an operational matter that will save money in the long term.

“If Mr Prichard wants to redeploy resources the considerations in that regard are financial.

“As a consequence that will save money. Mr Prichard does not want to be seen to be giving less fire cover.

“Why is he not making the decision himself?”

Mr Prichard told the Observer: “The consultation is an operational matter and nothing to do with finances.

“It is about who how to provide the best cover for the towns.”

John Livings, chairman of the Fire Authority said: “We do not decide the pay structure.

“It goes back to payscale decided in the 1970s after the first fire strike.

“We can’t change the pay structure. It is a civil service pay scale for civil servants. I believe Mr Prichard and his senior officers deserve their pay.”

Ms Owen added: “This just can not be justified when front line cuts are on the table.

“I asked for answers at the meeting and did not get a satisfactory response.”

Allison Collins, spokeswoman for East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, said: “The proposal to relocate the pumping appliance from the Ridge to Bohemia Road, Hastings, was an operational recommendation to the Fire Authority, as an outcome of the Authorities Integrated Risk Management Plan. The decision to consult with the public on the outcomes of the review is intended to ensure an open and transparent process and seek the views of the community affected by the proposals.

“The Service has an excellent track record over recent years, as evaluated by the Audit Commission. All previous reports on our performance can be accessed from our website, including our statement of accounts which identifies the remuneration levels of key senior members of staff.

“The Service is currently undergoing a prioritisation review of every function within the organisation. This includes the on-going review of all senior posts within the Service as well as those of support staff and related support costs in order to seek to reduce the adverse impact of cuts on front line services as far as possible.

“Making comparisons to other Fire & Rescue Services must be done on a like for like basis, and the differences between combined fire authorities, metropolitan authorities and county councils must be taken into account.

“East Sussex Fire Authority, in common with the rest of local government, is facing up to the challenge of cuts in Government Grant of 25 per cent over the period 2011/12 to 2014/15. Beyond that a cut of a further 15 per cent is anticipated.

“In preparation for the impact of these reductions, East Sussex Fire Authority is considering a range of measures at its December Fire Authority meeting which will include a reduction in its five principal officers to four principal officers, with the removal of one principal officer post. The workload created by the loss of this post will be absorbed by the principal officer team.

“As an emergency service, we have to provide effective operational cover on a 24 hour basis, 365 days a year. That level of cover will still have to be provided by three operational Principal Officers as well as absorbing the workloads of the post lost.

“A range of other measures are also being considered in order to realise the level of savings, but still seek to maintain our services standards, operational resilience and key aims of making our local communities safer.”