Fire chief may access £300k pension despite returning to job

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Chief Fire Officer, Simon Pilling
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Chief Fire Officer, Simon Pilling

A chief fire officer is being allowed to retire for a month and potentially access more than £300,000 in a lump sum pension payment before then being re-employed in the same highly paid job.

West Yorkshire Fire Service said Simon Pilling officially retired at the end of last month but will be returning to the post of chief fire officer and chief executive on Feburary 1.

The service’s latest accounts, for 2014/15, show Mr Pilling received £164,000 in salary and perks. A spokeswoman was unable to confirm whether he will be returning on the same terms or whether his pay will be increased.

In the interim, deputy chief officer Dave Walton will fill in for Mr Pilling and receive enhanced pay in line with the top job.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance strongly criticised the arrangements while the local Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the lucrative opportunity would not be available to ordinary firefighters whose jobs have been lost because of severe public spending cuts. But West Yorkshire Fire Authority, which oversees the service and employs chief officers, said uncertainty surrounding devolution plans for a combined regional authority, which might take responsibility for the fire service, meant it would be unfair to appoint a new chief. The authority had begun a recruitment process last year after Mr Pilling said he planned to retire but chairman Judith Hughes, a Kirklees councillor, said it was halted because devolution may make the role partially redundant.

Instead, Mr Pilling was invited to return on a 12-month contract. Under re-employment rules he has to leave for at least a month before stepping back into the top job. Having retired, he is now entitled to receive a tax-free lump sum Though he is not entitled to receive an annual pension payment until he is no longer employed by the service.

Coun Hughes said: “This was a very difficult decision, but we felt that it would be irresponsible and unfair to potential applicants, not to mention a waste of public money, to hire a new chief executive at this time when the position is so uncertain.

But TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby, said: “This is just typical of our overly-complicated, bureaucratic public sector where it is impossible for any ordinary taxpayer to work out what on earth the pay arrangement for these highly paid fat cats is. If this person is to be hired again, why is he being allowed to retire for just a month with access to such a humongous pension pot? Not only is it utterly unfair to taxpayers, it is also a huge blow to ordinary firefighters and public sector workers across the country who have faced pay cuts or worse over the last few years.”

David Williams, secretary of West Yorkshire FBU, acknowledged the service would make a saving on employer pension contributions, which amounted to £33,000 last year.

But he added the same option wouldn’t be available to ordinary firefighters when the service is shedding jobs because of public spending cuts.

Mr Williams said: “There’s a real equality issue between those at the top who can get it if they want to but those at the bottom can’t. It always seems like it’s a ‘them and us’ culture.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We expect fire authorities to be fully transparent when it comes to the pay and recruitment of senior staff. Local people have a right to know how significant pay and retirement deals are done, particularly where senior officers are re-employed.”