CHIEF fire officer Mark Yates has decided to repay his £3,000 private back operation money in full - saying it was never his intention to spark the fury it caused.
After more than a week of intense pressure, Mr Yates has finally issued a public statement in the last few minutes over the furore by revealing a u-turn on the fund.
Your Worcester News can also reveal:
- Mr Yates had his operation on October 1 last year, 20 days before a behind-closed-doors decision was made to pay him the cash
- He was suffering a ruptured disc in his lower back at the time, which he says slowly made it "impossible to function" over a period of time
- He says the saga could "potentially harm the great reputation of the fire service" and has given that as one reason for his decision
The move has led to fresh calls for Councillor Derek Prodger to quit as fire authority chairman, led by the Labour group
The full statement from Mr Yates says: "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 that the issue is now detracting from the great work the service and all its staff do on a daily basis.
"For these reasons I have decided to make this statement.
"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.
"Following my operation I had three days sick leave and then a further 17 days on modified duties working from home.
"I returned to my full duties on Monday, 21 October.
"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.
"My operation went ahead on 1 October and members of the authority subsequently decided to make a £3,000 contribution to the cost of my operation.
"However, it has become apparent that 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.
"I hope this statement helps bring this matter to an end so the service can continue to focus on its valuable work in the challenging times ahead."
The saga came to light after a Freedom of Information request from your Worcester News.
It revealed he decided to go private, paying £5,090, and asked for the money back from taxpayers.
The decision to give him the £3,000 was taken by four fire authority members, who met in private, with no minutes taken.
After it was revealed, Cllr Prodger said if Mr Yates went with the NHS there was a 12-week waiting list, and he would have required time off work.
The service has argued that would have led to other staff being paid extra to cover his duties, potentially costing £8,500 had he been off for the whole 12 weeks.
* More on this story will follow in your Worcester News tomorrow.