The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.
Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated.
The Commissioner requires a paper that outlines the performance of NFRS against the measures and metrics that make up the NFRS IRMP.
Group Manager Jim Dorrill provided an overview of the paper presented.
The overall trend in Primary fires is still in decline and is lower than it was pre pandemic.
It is too early to hypostasise, but this is likely due to the change in work patterns (more people working from home so notice fire more quickly).
Looking at a national level and will correlate at a local level to see if trends are the same.
An increase in the amount of prevention work is also likely to have contributed to the reduction in primary fires.
There has been a 9% increase in secondary deliberate fires which typically correlates to an increase in ASB
The Arson taskforce lead on this and there are ongoing operations with Northants Police in specific areas where a pattern has been identified.
There was a discussion regarding the recent arson at the former Rushden Police Station – The Crime Prevention team are in contact with the new owners.
The Commissioner asked the Chief Fire Officer to continue to monitor this, and to explore potential options for additional interventions if this trend continued.
Fire related deaths
There was a discussion about the number of deaths from accidental fires which was recorded as zero.
The Chief Fire Officer explained that the cause of death is not recorded until the coroner has completed their examination. It is important to allow this process to conclude – in some cases the Fire is secondary as the person was already deceased when the fire started.
The Commissioner asked that future reports include a table for fatalities that have not yet been determined.
This led on to a discussion about the numbers of injuries and deaths from accidental versus deliberate fires.
The safeguarding management board review all such incidents and it was agreed that Lisa Bryan should be invited to a future meeting to present a couple of case studies. The team lead on a number of proactive partnerships with local stakeholders which help to identify vulnerable people in the community
Action – PF to schedule an input relating to prevention and protection activity at a future meeting.
Non-domestic fires in non-domestic premises
There was a discussion about fires in non-domestic premises.
The Commissioner wanted to know why there was an unprecedented spike in Q3 2018/19 and another smaller spike in Q4 2020/21 and Q2 2021/22
Jim Dorrill agreed to look into this and provide an update to the commissioner.
Action – Jim Dorrill to provide further information on what led to an increase in the number of injuries arising form accidental fires in the periods highlighted.
There was a further discussion about the recording of non-domestic fires in. Typically, these are recorded in terms of volume rather than value. For example, a large distribution warehouse or a school versus a small storage unit. Some would have a far greater impact on a community in terms of workforce or pupil displacement.
The Commissioner asked for annotated detail in future reports to highlight high value/high impact fires.
There was a discussion about sickness data which Jim confirmed was accurate to end of May. The caveat is that Fire Watch is a manual system and therefore reliant on line managers completing the appropriate return-to-work paperwork in a timely manner.
Paul Bullen provided assurance that sickness pay is calculated and applied automatically. He provided further reassurance that both pay and absence will automated when the new HR system is in place.
There was a discussion about why short-term sickness has increased.
The patterns of sickness since Q2 2020/21 show a sharp rise at the start of the pandemic, then again from Spring 2021 and into 2022. This mirrors the pattern of sickness experienced nationally.
The Chief Fire Officer advised that this is largely an Omicron issue in Q4, and that short-term sickness is now reducing
He reflected that whilst long-term sickness has also increased it is still a relatively small numbers of people; a couple of extra people makes a big difference and absence due to work related stress has also increased.
The Commissioner sought assurance that there is sufficient management oversight. He also asked if there is anything that need to be put in place in terms of Occupational Heath support.
The current baseline figure is higher post covid; People off sick with usual ailments plus added impact of covid.
The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that there are good support practices in place to ensure staff are appropriately referred to Wellbeing and OH services where additional help is required.
It was agreed that short-term consistent absence management is key and there are areas where this could be improved.
ACFO Shaun Hallam is responsible for providing assurance on this and monitoring any regular sickness patterns and a report on how frontline staff are being managed is expected at the next FEG.
PB added that the long-term goal for Enabling Services is to bring wellbeing and OH services for both Police and Fire together. However, existing contracts need to run their course before joint procurement can take place.
In addition to driving better value, it will also ensure there is consistency in the support offered to both police and fire colleagues.
The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that more training with supervisors is also underway to manage absence as currently using overtime budgets to plug sickness gap rather than using it for keeping pumps on the run in on-call stations.
There has been a steady increase in the number of Home Fire Safety Visits (84% of the original target set due to restrictions placed during covid)
There have also been targeted HFSVs to high or very high risk properties which demonstrates the effectiveness of incoming referral mechanisms, self-referral triage and targeted direct engagement
The Commissioner wanted to know more about the utilisation of self-assessment tools given that there are approximately 308 thousand households in the county.
The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that there is a self-assessment tool on website.
Protection – High Risk Inspections
The Commissioner acknowledged that there has been some good work in this area and this has been commented on favourably by HMICFRS.
The year-to-date average appliance availability (including flexi) overall is slightly lower than pre-pandemic levels.
In Q4 appliance availability has increased slightly, most notably when flexi appliances are included. When considered against increased sickness levels of operational staff this reflects positively on the efforts made by key managers to improve availability.
The Commissioner commented that making sure pump availability never goes below the determined level is key rather than exceeding the determined level massively.
There was a discussion on the factual accuracy of HMIC report which commented on 22 appliances being available in the time period it observed which could not readily be correlated with the information in the performance report..
The Commissioner asked that the Chief Fire Officer ensures this is comparable with other tranches that were inspected during the same period.
The Commissioner would prefer that the report references appliance availability in the year, rather than the period of the inspection and that Fire reflect this in factual accuracy feedback accordingly. (the report said 22 when the overall availability was 18 appliances)
Action – Jim Dorrill agreed to investigate this and ensure that the appropriate data was reflected in HMICFRS report.
Average response times
The IRMP 2019 – 2022 states that the Service will respond to all incidents, on average within 10 minutes of calls with a safe and proportionate response to the incidents.
All incident response times have remained static for the last 4 months with only responses to fires under the 10-minute threshold.
There was a discussion about the varying response times to Fires, RTC’s and Special Services.
From a performance point of view the focus has to be on saving human life.
The Commissioner would like to see more granularity to responses times similar to police grade 1, 2 and 3 for example to include the nuance of animal rescues (cats in trees, pigeons in netting etc)
This breakdown will become even more valuable and informative as the demand for Special Services is likely to go up as fires continue to decrease over time
Killed or Seriously Injured (RTC performance data)
The number of RTC’s in all categories has declined overall despite a recent increase, levels remain lower than pre-pandemic levels and the trend overall is declining
Nationally there has been an 8% decrease in RTC’s compared to previous years.
The data for injuries and deaths from RTC’s, and the number of rescues performed also continues to show a reduction over pre-pandemic levels.
Static 10-year trend when overlay with traffic data; cars have got safer but driving behaviour has got worse.
The Commissioner was presented with the regular quarterly report on the performance of NFRS against the metrics in the IRMP.
Overall, the Commissioner was assured that fires and overall demand on the service were continuing to reduce, with the effect that local communities are safer from fire. This was particularly the case in respect of fires in people’s homes which continued to see a long-term decline.
The Commissioner noted the recent increase in secondary fires, which included issues such as bin fires and wildfires. The recent local trend in this is mirrored at a national level and following a discussion, the Commissioner asked the Chief Fire Officer to continue to monitor this, to explore potential options for additional interventions if this trend continued.
The Commissioner expressed some concerns about increasing sickness levels with staff and asked whether absence management arrangements were robust.
The Chief Fire Officer stated that there were good policies and procedures in place in relation to this but at some levels of supervision he and his team felt there could be improvements in the application of these and that there was work ongoing to ensure that this was the case. The Commissioner stated that he would continue to look at this over the next quarter and would hope to see some improvements.
In terms of prevention the Commissioner was pleased to see a return to higher levels of home fire safety visits despite some of the pandemic-based restriction the service had been operating under over the past 12 months or more. He thanked the Chief Fire Officer for this focus.
The Commissioner is aware that firefighters can apply for the abatement of their pension, allowing retirement, with access to their pension lump sum and further ongoing employment with the drawing of their annual pension, at the point they cease employment.
The Commissioner requests a report which:
Details the policy in place within NFRS for consideration and management of pension abatement requests.
Describes how transparency and consistency of approach is maintained in the application of any policy or approach.
Describes how an evidenced need is demonstrated when authorising such abatements.
Breakdown of gender and ethnicity of those requesting abatement and those approved
In addition, the report should articulate the number of abatement request made since 1st January 2019, along with the number granted, and the reasons for agreement or rejection, and the total number of employees currently serving on abatement.
HM Treasury policy requires public sector pensions to be abated in certain circumstances when a public sector employee is re-employed following retirement.
There is no formal guidance on how abatement should be applied or calculated as previous guidance issued by the relevant Secretary of State at the time is now out of date.
SH advised that the LGA have recently issued guidance and this highlights some checks that Northants need to undertake for future (and previously agreed abatements) to ensure they are compliant.
Abatement is being discussed to ensure that the Service has a fair and consistent approach that is honest and equitable.
CFO Dovey advised that the number of cases is low with most people only staying for a couple of extra years with one exception and this person has a rolling 1 year contract because they have a specific specialism and skill set.
He also confirmed that continuous service ends at the point of retirement
Sessional workers employed on zero hours contracts are not included as they have not been abated.
The Commissioner sought assurance from the Chief Fire Officer that there are tight processes in place so that the Service can always demonstrate the business benefit and that any approvals are compliant with HMRC and pension requirements.
The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that there is no automatic right to abate, and people can choose to retire or not.
The Chief Fire Officer also confirmed that any request for re-employment must be accompanied by a positive business case that is then considered at the Establishment Board to ensure there is a bonafide business benefit.
The Chief Fire Officer reiterated that numbers historically have been small and are unlikely to increase, particularly as benefits in the 2015 FPS scheme continue to accrue unlike the 1992 FPS.
Helen King advised that via the Pension Board she would ask the pensions administrator if they have any views as to what good practice for considering abatement proposals looks like.
Action – Helen King via the Pensions Board to ask the pensions administrator for their views on best practice pension abatement proposals for the service to consider.
There was a discussion about how many fire officers have moved into fire staff roles.
Examples were provided of people who have moved into Prevention and into the Joint Operations Team.
It was agreed that an annual report on abatement should be bought to the Accountability Board for discussion. Future reports should include a breakdown of ex-operational staff re-employed as support staff (or other staff) in the organisation since 2019 and in established or new temporary posts.
Future reports should also include a gender and ethnicity breakdown.
Whilst it is sensible for the Chief Fire Officer to make operational decisions, the Commissioner is the employer and therefore accountable; It is therefore imperative that he is fully informed of any decision so that professional advice can be taken and that fairness and equity is objectively considered.
It was agreed that Paul Bullen would review the abatement practice within Northamptonshire police who have recently reviewed their legal processes and framework.
Action – Paul Bullen to benchmark the Fire service abatement process against the Police framework.
Action – Shaun Hallam to ensure that future Pension Abatement proposals meet the requirements of the recently issued LGA guidance.
The Commissioner made it clear that his rationale as Fire Authority for requesting this report was to assure himself there was a fair and objective process in place for the authorisation of continued employment post retirement of firefighters and any pension abatement. The paper was supported by the NFRS policy on this matter.
The Commissioner noted that the number of people that were affected by this was small. The Chief Fire Officer stated that there were good policies and procedures in place in relation to this but he and his team felt there could be improvements in the application of these and that there was work ongoing to ensure that this was the case.
The Commissioner stated that he would continue to look at this and would hope to see some improvements.
The Commissioner expressed the need for the Chief Fire Officer to ensure that effective and proper succession planning was in place for key roles as a means of ensuring roles were undertaken rather than a reliance on this approach. He did not see evidence that this was the case across the board but wanted to ensure that proper planning was evident.
The Commissioner made it clear that any abatement proposals moving forward need to be compliant with the LGA guidance and pension and HMRC requirements in this regard.
ACFO Shaun Hallam raised a concern about the number of Sessional workers on zero hours contracts.
He highlighted the number of high-risk referrals being received which is creating a backlog as the Service is reliant on sessional workers being able to visit, assess and mitigate the risks identified.
Typically, High risk referrals take longer to deal with, and the work is highly specialised.
There are currently 360 referrals in the system and this is growing problem to resolve.
The Chief Fire Officer submitted proposals to the PFCC to baseline these posts as staffing costs need to be included in the base budget and proposals need to set out appropriate methods of funding.
The Commissioner reiterated his view that these proposals needs appropriately funding from within the overall Fire base budget and that the proposed method is not satisfactory and does not meet that requirement. He will discuss with the Chief Fire Officer. He reiterated his previous offer to fund a tri-service model (or hybrid of this model) to tackle this.
Action – Chief Fire Officer to consider and discuss how the tri-service model could be taken forward along with the offer by the PFCC to pump prime such a model from reserves.