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The Minister for Fire Services, Brandon Lewis MP, has written to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire and Rescue Authority demanding answers to questions raised about the recent retirement and re-appointment of the Chief Fire Officer, Graham Stagg, and asking about the high salaries paid to several senior officers.
Mr Lewis has accused the Fire Authority of a failure of transparency and accountability in its decision making, possibly contravening its own pay and recruitment policies and questioned the salaries of at least four senior officers who are paid significantly more than suggested national guidelines.
The letter, was brought to light by Dr Dave Baigent, a retired firefighter, academic and consultant from Romsey in Cambridge, who has been probing the Fire Authority with questions about the level of cuts in the service and pay and perks for senior managers for over 18 months.
Dr Baigent said: "It is bad enough the Fire Authority agreed a deal in summer 2012 to safeguard the pay and pension of its most senior officer..... at a time when firefighters were facing cuts to theirs - but to find out that it did so behind closed doors and seemingly against all its own policies is beyond belief.
I am very pleased that even the government is now asking questions about transparency and has also picked up on the high number of senior staff on salaries which are hard to justify for the size of the service.
This is an essential service using public money facing cuts of over £4m and it seems to have been acting more like an investment bank giving sky high salaries and expensive cars to its senior management team."
Councillor Paul Sales, leader of the Labour Party on the County Council and a member of the Fire Authority said: "This letter raises very serious questions about the recent re-appointment of the Chief Fire Officer, the salaries of other leading officers and the way the Fire Authority conducts its business which cannot be swept under the carpet.
We now need to open the books to full scrutiny and look at what information was given to members asked to make decisions. It is not only the Minister who needs answers but also the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough who are paying the price for these decisions."
Sir Peter Brown, Chairman of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority, said: "We will be responding to the Minister's letter in due course. We have a great team, providing a great service at great value to the taxpayers.
We run a lean and efficient fire and rescue service and since the senior management team has been in place, £4.8 million a year has been saved, which has resulted in improvements to our frontline service. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue has a good quality management team at its helm that, with the Fire Authority's support, are performing to a high standard and providing a better service than ever before to the people of Cambridgeshire.
We are fully justified in our level of pay for staff, however, as the needs of the business change, so may the pay. The work for which this senior management team was implemented has been largely carried out, making this Service one of the best in the country. Clearly, things like pay will be reviewed in light of how the business will need to be run in the future."
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