MPs have accused North-East fire chiefs of excessive pay and perks – even as they plan to axe 114 frontline firefighters to save cash.
Cleveland Fire Authority is under fire for employing too many directors and for giving some of them large pay hikes over recent years.
But the authority rejected the claims last night saying members were the victims of a political "witch hunt". It said the increases had followed a job review which meant directors were given more areas of responsibility.
Labour MPs Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) and Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East) are also targeting the company cars driven by those directors.
And they are demanding a rethink of plans for an expensive new stand-alone headquarters, as the authority wrestles with Government cuts of £5.75m over four years.
Scores of firefighters are expected to lose their jobs, with many more full-time posts replaced by part-time “on call” staff – sparking protests.
But Robbie Payne, the authority’s chairman, hit back angrily last night, declaring: “We’re certainly not a bunch of fat cats.”
Councillor Payne insisted Cleveland had fewer senior managers than other authorities and was considering getting rid of eight members, to save up to £20,000.
He said: “There seems to be a witch hunt by local MPs against our senior staff, who should be allowed to get on with their job of keeping the people of Teesside safe and secure.
“When you see how hard these people work, they are giving fantastic value for money. The pay they receive is fair, without a shadow of doubt.”
The clash follows inquiries by Mr Cunningham which found that:
* Three Cleveland Fire Authority directors each receive salaries of £95,000, while a fourth is paid £85,000.
* One - the director of corporate services – has received a 14.8 per cent pay rise since 2012, from £82,705 to £95,000.
* Total pay to five senior staff (including the chief fire officer) rose from £489,302 in 2012 to £517,855 this year – an increase of almost six per cent.
* All directors receive company cars although they “pay a contribution to cover the cost of personal use”.
Mr Cunningham attacked the funding cuts - when Cleveland had the biggest petrochemical complex in Europe – but added: “Unfortunately, the Government is not going to back off.
“Therefore, the authority needs to be looking at executive pay and at reducing the number of executives they have.
“There are three directors earning £95,000 and another being paid £85,000. With the chief fire officer, that’s a total pay bill of £518,000 – at the same time as they’re sacking people.
“And it looks like all the directors have top-of-the-range company cars, which is something the authority should definitely be reviewing.”
The criticism was echoed by Mr Blenkinsop, said: "Officers are on big pay and driving vehicles paid for by the taxpayer. The whole thing stinks.”
Councillor Payne insisted that the lack of a deputy chief fire officer and area managers meant Cleveland’s senior team was smaller than neighbouring authorities.
On pay increases, he said: “Nobody was given a pay rise. They had a job evaluation which concluded they have extra roles and responsibilities after another director’s post was removed.”
And he added, on company cars: “They need them because that’s how they get to the scene of emergencies. The cars are fitted with blue lights.”
The authority has received a £4m Government grant to build a new headquarters at Queens Meadow, in Hartlepool – while Cleveland Police’s base is in Middlesbrough.
Councillor Payne added: “There’s nothing to stop the police coming to Hartlepool to share our headquarters if they wish.”