Essex fire brigade “run like a dictatorship”

Essex Fire and Rescue Service chiefs have been accused of running a service “like a dictatorship” after it emerged that 40 firefighters have received written warnings for questioning cuts to services and fire chiefs’ expenses.

The accusations come after it was revealed that senior officers have spent more than �45,000 on expenses since 2008.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said that 40 firefighters have been threatened with disciplinary action after raising concerns.

The expenses claimed included foriegn trips to South Korea, the USA and Portugal, bills from hotels in Brentwood, Colchester and Witham – close to the fire service’s Kelvedon Park headquarters, and a �181.15 bill for the exclusive East India Gentleman’s Club in London.

In a separate leak to Mr Quirk from inside the fire service it was revealed that Chief Fire Officer David Johnson charged taxpayers �20,000 to move to a new home in Suffolk.

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FBU official Neil Day said: “We have been concerned for some time about the priorities of the Essex fire brigade management.

“Their pay and expenses seem to expand while they tighten their belts and make cuts to frontline services.”

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The figures emerged after Conservative candidate for Hutton North, Brentwood businessman Russell Quirk, spent two months arguing over whether he could obtain the figures under a Freedom of Information request.

Mr Day said: “In recent months more than 40 firefighters have been disciplined for raising their concerns in confidence with politicians.”

Mr Quirk added: “It’s like they are living and working in North Korea as far as I’m concerned. It really is quite scary. David Johnson is Essex’s answer to Pol Pot and should be ashamed of himself.”

A spokesman for the fire service said: “The service has a code of conduct which all staff are aware of. This matter was dealt with weeks ago through service procedures. As far as the service is concerned this matter is now closed.”

Of the expenses claims, he added: “The amounts claimed in expenses are costs incurred by up to seven senior officers and members of the Fire Authority over the course of four years.

“All Essex County Fire and Rescue Service staff have the right to claim certain meal costs, most do not claim all their entitlements. The �260 spent on food amounts to around �10 per year by each person.”

He added that the trips abroad were for practical training which was unavailable in the UK and Mr Johnson’s moving costs were acceptable under his conditions of service.

The cash strapped force agreed this week to allow advertisements on its buildings, and is planning to halve the full time firefighters based in Brentwood.

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