Spending on restaurants, hotels and adverts has seen West Yorkshire Fire Service rack up a phenomenal amount of credit card bill in the past 12 months.
Cash withdrawals of up to £500 have been made on credit cards, which have also been used to spend over £7,000 on trips to France and a series of restaurant bills topping £200.
The service said “cash was withdrawn in the event that the shop/retailer would not accept payment by credit card” although monthly statements showed that the same cards were regularly used to pay food and other bills directly on the same days.
Much of the cash was withdrawn on what the service described as emergency credit cards which were used while crews were outside the area helping out at major events such as flooding in southern and south west England or a major fire in South Yorkshire. Fire Brigade Union officials blasted the spending while the Taxpayers Alliance described the figures as “eye-watering”.
It is unclear why West Yorkshire in particular would need access to cash on a credit card. No other fire service in Yorkshire used their cards for cash despite also attending the same emergencies outside their local areas.
In total, £2,210 was withdrawn in cash over a four-month period last year, spread over 13 separate withdrawals. A further £70 was charged in fees for obtaining the cash. On many occasions the records showed the card was used on the same day to pay bills directly at restaurants and takeaways.
On February 19, when helping local crews deal with flooding in the Thames area, £200 cash was withdrawn - the same day as bills totalling £337.94 were settled on the same card at a Frankie and Benny’s, Costa, WHSmith, Starbucks and a service station. On February 21, £100 cash was withdrawn - the same day as a £154 bill was settled at Nandos. Three days later, £60 was withdrawn on the same day bills were settled at Starbucks, Sainsbury’s and a service station.
On February 14, £500 cash was withdrawn in two separate amounts of £250 at Taunton Deane service station on the M5 as the service went to help deal with flooding in Somerset. The following day another £500 in cash was withdrawn at a Co-op Bank in Bradford, on a credit card issued to assistant chief fire officer Dave Walton. A spokesman said this cash withdrawal was also for emergency cash for the flooding deployment. It is not clear why this was needed when substantial amounts were already being withdrawn at the scene.
Meals bills on the emergency card often topped £200 during the Thames flooding with £244.60 spent at Pizza Hut in Newbury, £226.10 at the Spices Indian Cuisine in Slough, and, on three consecutive days in West Drayton, £240.95 at the Zayani Indian restaurant, £259 at Il Basilico Italian restaurant, £247.90 at the London Hong Kong.
Separately, the emergency card was used to withdraw £200 during what the service described as a “welfare visit” to the Isle of Wight over a weekend in May last year to see a member of staff on long-term sick leave.
The service said £180 was returned though it remains unclear why a card set aside for emergency use would have been used or why cash was withdrawn in the first place.
A spokeswoman said the £20 was used to buy food though the records showed the same credit card was used on the same weekend on the Isle of Wight to pay hotel, restaurant and pub bills, a ferry charge and a payment for petrol coming to £525.84. It also emerged that £7,221 was spent on credit cards in relation to trips to La Rochelle on the west coast of France. The service sent staff on eight trips to the headquarters of Systel, a company appointed to provide a new joint command and control system for West and South Yorkshire.
In addition, a credit card was used to pay a total of £31,015, in 12 separate payments, to ITV to show industrial action adverts last year. Asked whether such a level of spend required approval from West Yorkshire Fire Authority, a spokeswoman said the spending was approved at area manager level. The cards have become increasingly commonplace in the public sector with the aim of cutting costs through stripping out the need for bureaucratic procurement processes.
But they are typically seen as being intended for low level spending rather than settling bills than run into thousands.