The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.
Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated.
Budget and Treasury Management
Budget and Treasury Management
The Commissioner requires a presentation on the final budget proposals for NFRS for 2021/2022 to include the treasury management and reserves strategy.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is required to review and adopt a Treasury Management Strategy annually alongside the Budget, Precept, Capital Programme and capital Strategy and publish before 31 March each year.
Nick Alexander presented the draft strategy which will also be considered at the Joint Independent Audit Committee (JIAC) on 10 March.
The Finance Team continues to develop Treasury Management resilience, capability and capacity.
The Commissioner reviewed the Forecast Borrowing and Investment balances set out in the document.
There was a discussion about the prospects for Interest rates.
Investment returns are likely to remain exceptionally low during 2021/22 with little increase in the following two years.
Borrowing interest rates fell to historically very low rates as a result of the COVID crisis. However, as a lot of borrowing is for buildings (40 year+ term) this is less of an advantage.
There was a discussion about Prudential and Treasury Indicators.
The Authority’s capital expenditure plans are the key driver of Treasury Management activity.
There was a discussion about the Operational Boundary and the absolute levels of borrowing set out in the Capital Financing Requirement (CFR).
The Creditworthiness Policy was also covered in some detail.
HK thanked Nick and his Fire colleagues for the work they have put into this report, for getting to grips with the challenges and for the financial plans now in place to build resilience.
Moving on to the 2021/22 Budget requirement NA highlighted a couple of positive changes to the funding envelope. An increase of £422k
Correspondingly this has also impacted the deficit from earlier reports from £1.5m to £1.1m
HK provided a brief update on the local tax base having received the North’s notification. There is still a lack of clarity on what the council tax deficit is likely to be. HK and NA will continue to monitor.
HK advised at this time, final information from local authorities is still awaited.
There was a discussion about cost of the capital programme and Capital charges, as in 5 years’ time these will equate to £1m per annum and this is funding that would reduce what is available in the revenue budget.
HK advised that in her view as S151 the capital programme is neither deliverable nor affordable as in 5 years’ time assumed borrowing is too high and too costly, even when interest rates are low.
Pay awards for firefighters have also been highlighted as a potential pressure as they are not set by the government.
There was a discussion about the forecasting of the Wholetime establishment with the strength moving up and down to reflect requirements.
Action – NA to check paragraph 6.2 and change November 2021 to 2020.
There was a discussion on Savings. (Table on page 8 of the report)
A programme has begun to identify plans to deliver the required reductions in budgetary need or savings, including additional pressures and changes to funding.
Action – DD & HK will review and finalise the potential savings list in the table provided when information from the Home Office and the precept level is finalised.
There was a discussion about the MTFP which has been updated to reflect the latest funding information and challenges faced with the Business Rate, Council Tax and the impact of Covid-19.
Consultation is underway across the county to gain a view from the public on the two precept increase options. (1.99% and £5).
The 2021/22 Capital programme was reviewed.
Whilst the programme is set to enable the revenue budget and treasury management strategies to be prepared for 2021/22, the programme will need to be updated at Q1 in 2021/22 to reflect finalisation of project costings which include ESN, Cyber Essentials and the required capital work from the Property Survey.
The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the Capital plan is worse case scenario and that some equipment (e.g. Water carrier at Towcester) earmarked for replacement may not need replacing. He and Phil Pells will review based on educated decision nearer the time. Likewise, Paul Fell and Heather Cowley will review IT related equipment, with other operational and enabling service leads.
All agreed it was an aspirational but recognised that further things still need to be added but DD felt from early review that it could be reduced.
HK recognised the aspirational nature of the programme but advised that there also needs to be an affordable forward looking programme which is integrated with the financial plans, capital and revenue cannot operate in isolation.
SM asked for the programme to be reviewed and reconsidered at a future Accountability Board.
Action: DD to review Fire Capital Programme in the light of deliverability and affordability
HK added that for 22/23 budget cycle for both Fire and Policing, the capital programme will need to finalise at a much earlier stage to enable a complete budget and MTFP position to be completed. Whilst changes are needed on the capital programme, this would also assist in minimising the volatility.
The Medium-Term Plan shows significant shortfalls which do need to be addressed and savings plans identified, even at a £5 option.
It is hoped that the Commissioner will be given latitude within the precept to mandate a £5 increase for Fire and an additional one-off payment will be forthcoming from the Home Office following intensive lobbying to bolster reserves.
HK advised that whilst she has given an opinion and advice to the Commissioner that the 2021/22 budget can be balanced at both 1.99% and £5 precept options, (thereby setting a legal budget), the Commissioner is also required to ensure he can work towards balancing the budget over the medium Term (at least three years). At present, this cannot be achieved and savings need to be considered across the three years to balance the budget in the Medium Term. HK feels that DD’s work in reviewing the Capital Programme will assist in doing so.
The Commissioner commended the extraordinary work that has gone into the maximising savings whilst moving the Service from crisis mode to stable and then towards investment and growth.
The Commissioner was assured that everything that could be done had been and remains positive about what has been achieved in the two years since the governance change and what can be achieved in future years.
The Commissioner confirmed he has a call with the Fire Minister, Lord Greenhalgh on Thursday 14th January on another matter; but will take the opportunity to push the case for NFRS.
The Commissioner has already lobbied local MP’s for their support and will set up a call with Jonny Bugg (Head of the Fire Strategy and Reform Unit and Deputy Director at the Home Office) to ensure all avenues are covered.
The Chief Fire Officer will speak to Roy Wilshire and John Buckley so they are apprised of request for the additional financial support being sought.
The Commissioner is reassured that the 2021/22 budget will be balanced at either a 1.99% or £5 precept. However, he recognises that the Capital Programme needs to be reviewed and reprofiled and has asked the Chief Fire Officer to do this to ensure it is deliverable and affordable.
The Commissioner recognises the challenge over the Medium Term and whilst precept flexibility would assist in this, he recognises the need to ensure that a budget needs to be balanced over a three-year medium-term position and that reserves are not sufficient to do this. As such, he requires the Chief Fire Officer to start to look at how savings and efficiencies can be made to balance the Medium-Term position.
Buildings Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill
Buildings Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill
Post Grenfell Tower, 2021 will see the enacting of the Buildings Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill.
The Commissioner requests a paper and presentation to cover:
The history of the enactment of these two pieces of legislation
The key legislative requirements that these will place on NFRS and/or Authority
The initial thoughts on the implications and impact of these pieces of legislation on NFRS.
Protection Manger Scott Richards provided a report and confirmed this had previously been presented and discussed at FEG.
The Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill represent the biggest change to the countries fire and safety legislation since 2006.
The Buildings Safety Bill is likely to become law later this year (Autumn) when it will become the Building Safety Act.
It will apply to buildings of more than six storey’s and/or over 18m in height.
The Bill may apply to some buildings like hospitals as well as residential premises.
A new regulator will be created to oversee the safety and standard of all buildings. They will also directly assure the safety of high-risk buildings and improve the competence of those responsible for managing and overseeing building work.
The biggest impact of the new process will be on new builds and refurbishments which will have to pass through several gateways to manage the safety of a building by having rigorous oversight of the regulatory requirements. The gates ways are:
The planning processes
The Construction phase which could include a hard stop.
Final assessment to enable the regulator to issue a completion certificate before
Northamptonshire does not have a significant number of high-rise buildings so an impact on resourcing is not expected however there will be a requirement for additional training given the increased knowledge required
CFO Dovey advised this is likely to be an additional area of focus in the next round of HMICFRS inspections.
The Commissioner assured that the NFRS Protection Team is in a good position and thanked Scott for his leadership in this regard.
The Commissioner recognises that both or either of these Bills may result in additional responsibilities and demand for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.
He was reassured that at this point, without full clarity on dates of the Bills becoming live and the full effects of these two pieces of legislation that NFRS was as prepared as it could be for their inception.
He requested that the Chief Fire Officer keep him appraised of the journey of these two Bills and alert him of any significant additional demands that they are likely to have on NFRS, as they progress.
Grenfell Inquiry action plan
Grenfell Inquiry action plan
The Commissioner requires a quarterly update outlining progress in the delivery of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry action plan against set milestones to include any areas of risk and required investment.
Area Manager Phil Pells presents a concise report on the progress made in Q2 along with four recommendations carried over to Q3.
The Commissioner was pleased that four of the recommendations carried forward from Q2 had been completed and independently agreed through the recent audit of the Grenfell Action Plan which rated compliance as Good.
In Q3, milestone completion dates were set for 13 recommendations (including carry forward of 4 actions from Q2).
12 were completed.
The evaluation of the technical specification for the new CARP aerial appliance is scheduled to take place this month. (delayed from December)
Phil Pells provided a summary of the key deliverables in Q3. These included the issue of Smoke hoods and incident Command Wallets, NPAS training and the procurement of digital radios.
National Talk-Group 20 will go live this month.
Recommendations for Q4 milestones are all on track
Overall, progress has been positive, and the Commissioner is content that delivery of the action plan is on track.
The Commissioner recognised the work that has been and continues to be delivered on this agenda by NFRS.
He was reassured that the actions that had slipped from Q2 had now been implemented and welcomed the fact that progress on this action plan had been assessed as positive independently, via the internal audit process.