Fire Accountability Board Minutes 10 December 2019
Stephen Mold (PFCC)
Darren Dovey (Chief Fire Officer)
Minutes and Actions from previous meeting
Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated
The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.
Action 51 Capital Programme – HK advised that the current iteration of the Capital Programme needs additional work. The ICT budget in particular is unclear and will need to be finalised by January.
HK would like reassurance from DD that some of the money committed from the current underspend is being committed wisely.
Once a robust plan has been agreed HK will consider moving some of the transformation funding across along with 106 monies. Part of the wider budget setting discussion to be covered under section 4 of the meeting agenda.
SH provided an update on Appliance availability and the work that has been undertaken to understand and respond to demand.
A robust process is now in place to manage predictions and mitigate any gaps in the service.
HMICFRS have agreed that the ‘Flexi Appliance’ model is an acceptable way to manage fire risk and pump availability across the county.
There was a discussion on ‘pinch points’ where the service had not met attendance times. Road Traffic Collisions (RTCs) appear to be the issue.
Overall attendance times are improving. The Achilles heel appears to be RTCs in rural locations or simultaneous demand; for example Mereway attending an incident that could have been covered more quickly from Moulton, but Moulton dealing with something else or training.
SH reviewing all incidents where response times have not been met and what caused it to happen.
It was noted that fire stations are built and located to manage where there is the greatest risk of fire, i.e. in urban areas. Separating response times to fires and to RTC’s will provide greater clarity and reassurance.
There was a discussion on the number of Home Safety Checks. Target should be 5000 per annum which would place NFRS in the middle of similar family group. Currently completing around 3,500 which is up from 2,500 in the previous year.
Quality over quantity is key. Important to target the most vulnerable. Local knowledge and information data is key.
SM would like to provide a short update to the Police, Fire and Crime Panel to highlight the improvements despite the limited budget. Overall availability of pumps has increased and response times have improved. In addition, the number of firefighters is increasing and the service is finally able to order new appliances. This is a positive story to share with the panel.
HK updated on the rationale for the current funding assumptions and why for planning purposes there are two funding scenarios. ‘Base case’ (most likely) of a 1.99% and ‘best case’ – a £5 increase in precept.
HK also advised that the council tax surplus is not looking as good this year so the funding estimate has been based on the middle point.
The local funding settlement relies upon the business rate retention starting position. A prudent 1.75% increase in growth has been assumed however this may need to be revised to 1.5%. (Historically Northants has grown 2% every year but forecast this year is lower).
Last year the council tax surplus generated an additional £1.2 million in revenue however latest figures indicate it will be around £600k this year but anticipating £750k, with the greater share of any surplus going to the police service for obvious reasons.
In terms of the precept, most likely that Fire will receive a 1.99% increase in council tax however SM will be asking for a dispensation from the new government to request £5 per household.
This is simply because 1.99% increase is too low given council tax bandings in Northamptonshire and NFRS is historically one of the lowest funded services in the country.
The PFCC has a statutory obligation to consult on Fire and will be consulting on three options – zero, 1.99% and £5; but will be clear that a zero increase will result in the loss of firefighters and appliances.
The financial challenges, future risks, uncertainties and opportunities covered in points 15 – 19 in the report were discussed in detail.
There was a discussion on the impact of the Emergency Services Network programme (ESN) on capital and revenue budgets which are currently unknown.
It was agreed that SM, who sits on the ESN Board, would raise this concern to see how Fire could be supported.
Action – SN to raise ESN concerns for NFRS at the next meeting.
As previously discussed when updating the action log. It was noted that the most significant budget uncertainties relate to understanding the budget areas of training, property, ICT and the capital and revenue investment required across the areas of vehicles, equipment and ICT, together with the financial impact of that investment.
There was a discussion on the costs for staffing.
Action – Whole time Fire establishment in the budget to be amended from 257 posts to 254 posts.
NA provided an update on his deep dive into every single line of the budget assumptions to provide assurance and confidence in the MTFP including lots of work that had been done to understand non staff costs.
NA explained that staffing costs is the biggest pressure to creating a £.5 million reserve for the service.
SH updated on plans that are in place to create efficiencies in overtime claims.
NA confirmed that the Base budget is balanced but there are further additional pressures that will need to be met from other budgets or additional savings will be required if Base budget is agreed.
There was a discussion on additional investment that has been put forward by the Chief Fire Officer should funding be available once the final settlement is known. A full list was attached as an appendix to the Draft Budget Report.
In terms of additional investment in the Prevention team (point 38), from a budgetary point of view HK is ok with this, but confirmed that it has to be part of the larger wish list and should not be approved in isolation.
Action – Merge all investment proposals in appendix A with additional investment request (38) to ensure all of the essential revenue and capital in one place then SM can review.
There was a discussion about the new ACO role which will lead and manage the Enabling Services of both Police and Fire. It was agreed that the recruitment of this role is a priority.
There was a discussion about staff increments. Small increase last year and potentially a 2% pay increase for fire staff this year.
It was agreed that SM would attend the next relevant FEG meeting
Action – DD to let LS know when this will be.
DD provided an update on a stress survey carried out by Unison. Result show that staff feel that they have too much work and there are not enough people in the organisation.
This is reflective of the extreme financial pressure the service has been under as a consequences of 10+ years of underfunding.
DD is confident that the governance change will put it right but it will take a few years to do so.
SM expressed his thanks to NA for his hard work on the draft 2020/21 budget report and MTFP.