Fire chief in pension scandal

Mark Lees/PA

London Fire Brigade Commissioner, Ron Dobson, is embroiled in a scandal that saw him strike a deal to quit his £200,000 a year position, receive an estimated £700,000 pension payoff and then walk straight back into his former role.

It is thought that the fire chief (pictured with Mayor of London Boris Johnson) has been allowed to side step future pension cuts in a move the Fire Brigades Union has branded "deeply unethical."

It is reported that Dobson has been allowed to 'retire' and gain access to his pension entitlements – giving him a maximum of £133,000 a year, two thirds of his salary. But the 52-year-old has been instantly re-employed into his old position, albeit on lower pay.

The deal has angered the Fire Brigades Union, which has branded it "deeply unethical" at a time when many firefighters are facing job cuts and pay freezes.

The option to leave early appears to have allowed the fire chief to dodge any future cuts to pensions and increases in tax to his lump sum. Officials at the union are also angry that he was allowed to walk back into his old post without other candidates being considered for the position.

Secret deal
According to the Daily Mail, the press and the public were asked to leave a meeting of the fire authority before the retirement and re-employment of Mr Dobson were discussed under an item listed as "continuity arrangements".

The newspaper reports that Paul Embery, regional official of the union, said: "It appears deeply unethical for a deal like this to be hammered out in secret at a time when ordinary firefighters are suffering tough austerity measures.

"When firefighters are subject to a pay freeze and 25% cuts in spending, this is obscene. It shows there's one rule for fat cats and another for the rest of us.
"This kind of decision should be made in public so that it can be properly scrutinised instead of being made in a cloak and dagger way."

"Cost saving" move
The firefighters' pension scheme allows for a two-thirds salary pension, which would give Mr Dobson £133,333 annually, based on his final salary of around £200,000 a year.

Workers may convert up to quarter of their pension into a lump sum called a 'commutation.' This would allow Dobson to draw £716,000, which if he did would bring his annual pension down to about £100,000.

Last night a London Fire Brigade spokesman declined to discuss the figures with the Daily Mail, but insisted the move represented a "cost saving" because of Mr Dobson's lower salary. It ensured a highly regarded commissioner was in office during the run-up to the 2012 Olympics and beyond, he added.
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