The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.
Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated
Capital Investment and Savings Plan
The Commissioner requested a paper that outlines and presents the revised Capital Investment Plan for 2021/2022, alongside a proposed Savings Plan.
Assistant Chief Officer Paul Bullen provided an overview of the Capital Investment Plan which was last presented to the Commissioner in April 2021.
The paper contains a narrative with appendices and a separate spreadsheet covering Fleet, Estates, ICT, Operational equipment and Financing.
As previously highlighted, existing equipment, vehicles and ICT is often at or near the end of useful life, highlighting the lack of investment that was provided to the Service pre-governance transfer.
In the April Accountability Board, the Chief Fire Officer presented two versions of the capital programme to help bridge the funding gap within the MTFP.
The June 21 capital programme was based on a review of the more ‘drastic’ of the two with further revisions which has resulted in reduced costs over the capital programme as compared to the version presented in April 21.
Whilst the capital programme and the revenue impact of it have reduced, it only includes essential replacements and remains a significant financial investment.
The Chief Fire Officer and his team have made best endeavours to extend the life of equipment where possible and there was a discussion about vehicles which are the costliest element on the 10-year capital programme and therefore the area with the greatest potential for saving and re-profiling.
In light of this, a series of reviews are underway, led by the joint Head of Transport and Logistics. These will consider non-operational vehicles, officer cars and a number of special vehicles such as the Unimog.
A number of proposals in the former estate’s strategy have been removed on the basis of affordability.
Work continues to establish the right location for police within Towcester. If that is the existing fire station, whilst capital costs will remain with Fire, the Force would contribute financially and the two S151s would recommend the appropriate sum and mechanism in line with accounting arrangements.
In terms of ICT, it was noted that some lines of the ICT plan have no monetary values next to them. For example, there is currently no accurate assessment on the cost of the ESN Programme.
Likewise, the Service have currently budgeted an £800k cost for the control room upgrade in conjunction with Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service although the actual cost won’t be known for a few more months.
On this point, the Commissioner confirmed that he has spoken to the SRO for ESN on the importance of knowing which Control room systems in the market have been tested and are ESN compliant although it is assumed that this requirement will be built into any contract for whatever Control room system we buy.
HK advised that in her view whilst she felt the capital programme was still high, she was aware that only operationally essential requirements remained from this further review and the capital programme is more affordable than it was. However, cognisant of the wider funding challenge for Fire over the MTFP, she feels it is necessary to use all opportunities to seek grant funding, be it Generic Capital grants or ESN or other specific grants which could be applied to reduce the revenue cost of funding the capital programme even further. HK advised that currently the Home Office do not have grant funding available but for HK to continue to appraise them of the position to consider whether funding could be available later in the year.
The Capital Investment plan will be reviewed again in September and HK requested that estimates are included for ESN and other projects to provide a fully informed position for consideration.
A MTFP Savings Proposal was also presented and presented by HK and the Chief Fire Officer.
The governance transfer was based on a three-year plan to build reserves and a sustainable financial base for Fire moving forwards
However, since the governance transfer, essential additional pressures (particularly in the capital programme and reduced funding streams) have been identified above those known at the time of the transfer.
Furthermore, and most significantly, Fire funding streams from 2021/22 onwards have been significantly affected by the Covid pandemic.
Whilst government assistance has been put in place to offset some of these challenges, and to provide a sustainable level of reserves, this will only benefit the current year and challenges remain in future years to make up the deficit and balance future years budgets.
HK highlighted the challenge on MTFP for Fire and forecasting savings over next 5 years.
In February 2021, the MTFP identified a shortfall in 2022/23 of £2.049m rising to £4.062m by 2025/26 and was used as the starting basis for the savings plan.HK advised it was a financially prudent position and based on similar methodologies to those used in the Policing MTFP.
The Chief Fire Officer, the Senior Team and Head of Finance have met on two occasions to review all areas of their business in order to consider potential savings in developing a savings plan. HK was appreciative of the full engagement of the Chief Fire Officer and his team, all of whom contributed fully to the discussion and considered each option objectively.
All options identified have been assessed at a high level to consider the impact and risk. As a result, savings were identified which fall into three areas as follows:
Area 1 – Savings arising from Joint Opportunities can be realised in the short term and will be progressed
Area 2 – Savings from operational activities which can be implemented over a medium-term timeframe but could have an operational impact
Area 3 – With the exception of training, Protection and prevention for where savings would be a retrograde step, these relate to operational considerations for which significant further work would be required and are longer term to identify and implement.
HK advised that the figures were prior to the firefighters pay award offer of 1.5% from July 2021 and which was not budgeted for the MTFP would need to be reworked for this.
If all short, medium- and long-term options were progressed, the budget can be balanced in 2023/34 by minimal use of general reserves together with the use of funding and transformation reserves to smooth the timing implementation of the savings plan in 2022/23
There was a discussion on the priorities and how they might work in practice.
There was a discussion on the recent announcement of the NJC offer of a 1.5% pay award and the additional pressure this adds to the NFRS budget.
Whist the Commissioner believes Firefighters and Fire staff deserve a pay rise it is unaffordable and at a cost of £30million across the sector, the Minister has cited it is equivalent to the cost of over 600 fire fighters, none of which was provided in the Fire funding settlement for 2021/22.
There was a discussion about operational options and the Chief Fire Officer will undertake further work in this regard.
There was a discussion about the remaining on the National deployment flood rescue register. National deployment is not a requirement for the service, albeit it does assist with National Resilience which is a Government priority, however skills need to be maintained to stay on the national register for which there is no additional funding.
It was agreed that further work should start on all three Priority areas identified. HK and the Chief Fire Officer will commence this, and these will be reviewed in three months’ time.
HK agreed to continue the dialogue with the Home Office to ensure they are appraised and sighted on the Medium-Term Financial Plan challenges and savings options and seek and identify all possible funding opportunities for Capital and the Base budget.
The MTFP and plan will be updated as discussed and shared in confidence with the Home Office.
On strategic investments, the four Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners continue to lobby the government for latitude on precept and with respect to the flexibility within Police and Fire budgets.
Ending the discussion, HK advised that in addition to the financial pressures discussed, coming over horizon is the next Treasury actuarial review of police and fire pensions. The 5% and 10&% increases currently being modelled will massively impact both Force and Fire budgets, equating to £2.8m at 5% and £5.6m at 10%. HK recommends early lobbying of the Home Office and Ministers to ensure that this is factored into their funding considerations.
It was agreed that the Commissioner will formally write to the Home Office to highlight his concerns about the affordability of pensions and the impact of any potential pension rate increases on both services.
Action – SM to write to the Home Office about the affordability of Police and Fire pensions
Returning to the Capital Investment Plan, there was a discussion about the proposed extension to Coby Fire station which has been removed from the plan on the basis of affordability.
The Commissioner asked that this be reconsidered on the basis that he would rather divert the rental costs for Force pay for use of the Corby Cube and give that to NFRS if the Fire Station site could be extended to accommodate the Police.
Action – SM and PB to discuss further at their next meeting
The Commissioner was assured that good progress has been made in preparing the savings plan, some savings can be immediately taken forward and other options for which further work will take place.
Reserves are now sufficient to meet both unforeseen risks and to smooth the impact on timing of savings plans or funding receipts.
The Commissioner was assured by the further work on the Capital programme which he has approved with a review in the Autumn to include ESN and any other unspecified areas.
The Commissioner requested a paper that outlines evidenced progress against all recommendations from the HMICFRS Effectiveness, Efficiency and People Inspection 2018/19, as well as articulating preparations for the next planned round of inspections.
Following the November 2018 inspection, the Service was informed by HMICFRS of two areas of concern.
As a result, it was required to submit an action plan setting out how they would address them.
HMICFRS have conducted several revisits and reviews to inspect and assess progress.
In March 2021, HMICFRS wrote to the Commissioner and the Chief Fire Officer releasing NFRS from the causes of concern.
During the November 2018 inspection, HMICFRS identified 18 AFI’s spanning across the three pillars of Effectiveness, Efficiency and People.
Each of these areas was mapped and incorporated into the NFRS: Service Improvement Plan (SIP).
The Commissioner was assured that NFRS has made good progress against the AFI’s and this is assured tactically through Department Performance Boards and strategically by the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers through the Service Assurance Board.
There was a discussion preparing for the next planned inspection in the Autumn of this year.
The Commissioner recommended talking to police colleagues who have more experience in HMICFRS inspection preparedness.
Whilst the Service are confident that they have made progress against all AFI’s). the Commissioner is keen to show that we have a plan and can confidently articulate where the Service is on that journey.
Area Manager Kerry Blair confirmed he is confident that the Service can show tremendous progress and change with examples to prove it.
There was a discussion about literature on the NFRS website.
Kerry confirmed this was all up-to-date and the website looks much better, however discussions on updating to a new website were underway with the Head of Comms in order to increase functionality.
There was a discussion about the Service being able to demonstrate a clear rationale for the balance of resources between the three functions; Protection, Prevention and Response.
Kerry explained how each department, is structured and how they are resourcing, and balancing risk has been reviewed.
Crews being trained to inspect HMO’s was given as an example of how this increases skill in one area and reduces the risk in another.
There was a discussion about how many AFI’s will be closed by the time the next HMICFRS inspection takes place.
Kerry confirmed this work is being done with Heads of departments to review and close down AFI’s to become business as usual.
The Commissioner recognised the good progress made by NFRS to issues identified in the 2018 HMICFRS inspection, particularly in relation to the identified causes for concern.
The Commissioner sought reassurance that the service was properly prepared, and able to evidence, all the positive work it has undertaken in readiness for the next HMICFRS reinspection.
Whilst the Commissioner was assured that progress has been made, he suggested that the Service was better able to articulate and evidence the areas where improvements had been completed. Where improvements were ongoing, they should also be able to clearly articulate why this was the case.
NFRS performance update
The Commissioner requires a report on the performance against the measures and metrics contained within the IRMP
The Commissioner complimented Area Manager, Kerry Blair on the quality of the report provided and all the work that is being done to demonstrate performance improvements across the Service.
Within the IRMP a clear set of outcome measures have been established to measure performance against the plan and are split between community outcomes and organisational objectives.
Kerry advised that comparisons this year have been a challenge due to the impact of the Covid pandemic; don’t want to lose the trend of past 3/5 years however the direction on travel is still in the right direction.
There was a discussion about why the number of accidental dwelling fires per 10,000 were stable during lockdown; with more people at home during the day the hypothesis is that more fires were detected earlier without requiring fire service intervention.
In contrast, the Service saw a rise in deliberate secondary fires during Quarter 1 2020/21. Some of these fires relate to deliberately set fires of household and domestic waste, which can be attributed to the closure of refuse centres. These have now tapered off as the refuse centres have reopened.
Appliance availability of 14 to support the strategic response capability was met.
As at March 2021, the Service availability is consistently at 18 pumps or over 81.18% (93.15% with flexi).
There was an overall reduction in Road Traffic Collison’s (RTC’s) attended which can be attributed to the lockdown period.
Data provided showed the number of RTC’s where the Extrication and Release of persons was required.
Extrication and Release is where the Service used tools or skills to move a vehicle or allow a person to get out.
In terms of overall Incident Data, a table (appendix 4 in the report) provided a clear breakdown of the number of incidents for the current year and over the previous three-year period.
Fire related incidents continue to decrease year on year, with spikes in Quarter 2 (over all years) which coincides with the summer period; Kids out of school, days are longer, more people are out and about and generally there is less rain).
The Arson Task Force continue to visit areas where fire linked ASB is a problem to provide advice on and carry out target hardening.
NFRS will shortly be launching a BBQ safety campaign.
With lower incidents of fires generally, officers are spending more time out of stations looking at Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) protection activities to reduce the risk here.
The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that he is keen on working with partners on community issues, look at what the problems are and find ways to work together to collectively resolve them.
A great example of this, is the work they are doing to help reduce the demand placed on the police when searching for vulnerable missing people.
There was a discussion about ‘Fire 25’ a document that the Chief Fire Officer is pulling together. This articulates how the Service will balance performing statutory duties and helping in the community.
There was a discussion about which roles are covered within the Act; these include Prevention and Protection work whereas water safety and co-responding are not.
It was agreed that there is an opportunity to broaden what is in the Act as part of the Fire Reform agenda led by Lord Greenhalgh.
The Commissioner recognised the work undertaken by the service in order to revise the quarterly performance report. The report was clear and articulated the key performance areas for NFRS and the delivery of the IRMP.
The Commissioner was assured that progress was continuing in relation to pump availability and response times.
The Commissioner discussed falling demand, a trend that can be seen year and urged the Chief Fire Officer to consider the opportunities that this provided for reform.