Cambridgeshire fire chief banned from ‘minor’ £6,000 outlay for himself and two staff to attend Las Vegas conference

Graham Stagg

Graham Stagg - Credit: Archant

The £156,000 a year chief officer of Cambridgeshire was banned from splashing out £6,000 for himself and two colleagues to attend a conference in Las Vegas.

Fire chief Graham Stagg had described the outlay for the conference organised by global technology giant IMB as “minor compared to the benefits we have amassed thus far”.

Despite an earlier denial by his officials that he ever intended to go, Mr Stagg later admitted that he had put a request to fire authority chairman Sir Peter Brown but it had been vetoed.

“A proposal was put to the fire authority that I along with two members of staff attend this conference in Las Vegas as it would be of significant business benefit.

“The chairman consulted widely with authority members and a decision was made to send one representative from the service.”

In their earlier statement Cambs fire – which faces three further strikes by its fire fighters from May 2 over pay and pensions- had described claims of Mr Stagg attending as “wholly inaccurate” since only one member of staff was going to attend.

Details of the trip were revealed last night by Councillor Paul Bullen, leader of the UKIP group on Cambridgeshire County Council.

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He described it as an “outrageous junket at taxpayers’ expense and bear in mind that we will also be paying their salaries while they are away

“It seems that everybody is tightening their belts, except the hierarchy at the Cambridgeshire Fire Service. No other organisation would send its chief executive across the Atlantic to attend an IT conference!”

However his remarks were made before it was explained that only one fire authority officer - Henry Cressey, head of ICT- would now be attending the IMB WepSphere conference from April 27-May 1 at the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino. It will showcase the work of 9,000 developers and IT leaders.

Cambs is working with other authorities from Bedfordshire and Devon and Somerset on a project with IBM “to help deliver savings in administrative costs to protect frontline services and make work time more productive

On April 1 Mr Stagg met Sir Peter to discuss the conference and followed it up 24 hours later in an email which spoke of IBM technology being used to reduce costs and protect frontline services by using new business processes and systems.

By being deployed in a group of fire authorities, the WebSphere technology of IBM would enable the firm to use it as an example for British companies.

Mr Stagg said Cambridgeshire would benefit substantially from the IBM package with free access to advice and knowledge of engineers and data architects and many other IBM services which would not normally be available to a small organisation such as Cambs fire service.

One other reason put forward by Mr Stagg for attending was to “ensure some continuing professional development and succession planning” since it was a long term investment. (Mr Stagg ‘retired’ from the force last year, collecting his pension pot in the process, and returned to work a month late).

IBM, he told Sir Peter, had “very strict rules around bribery and corruption and does not pay for flights or hotels for anyone” but they do offer free conference places for speakers for five days.

Mr Stagg proposed that both he, Mr Cressey and Tamsin Mirfin, head of the Service Transformation and Efficiency Programme (STEP), should go to Vegas.

He put forward projected costs of conference fees of £2,000, hotel rooms at £2,000, and £2,100 for economy flights.

“The costs are approximate as nothing is booked yet,” he told Sir Peter.

“I am tremendously proud of what the team have achieved here; one of the world’s largest technology company’s allowing us to speak at its annual conference is a great signal and one that I believe we should broadcast starting on May 9. Equally important is keeping IBM (UK) on side and assisting them in keeping the USA interested and supportive of the project.

“I believe the costs to be minor compared with the benefits we have amassed thus far and will in the future with IBM (UK).”

Cllr Bullen said: “If Mr Stagg wants to mingle with Hollywood stars, let him do it at his own expense. It is a complete waste of public money. Every conference is now streamed on social media, so there is no need to personally attend.

“I’m sure that the IBM projects team which is liaising with the fire service is more than able to give the presentation themselves or, if it has to be members of the fire service, then they can do so via a televised conference call.”

Sir Peter said: “The work Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service are doing with IBM is yet another example of how the service is leading the way nationally, rationalising back end functions to become radically more efficient and make savings in the longer term.

“To be invited by IBM to present at their annual international conference is a huge compliment to the project team and the service and demonstrates the level of innovation the service is working at.”