MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE
SOUTH EAST FIRE & RESCUE SERVICES
REGIONAL MANAGEMENT BOARD
HELD ON WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2008 AT 11.10 HOURS
AT SURREY FIRE & RESCUE SERVICE HQ, REIGATE
These minutes are subject to confirmation by the Regional Management Board at its next meeting.
* Cllr P Evans Cabinet Member Public Protection, West Sussex County Council
* Cllr Dr P Bryant Chairman, Royal Berkshire Fire Authority
* Cllr M F Cartwright Chairman, Hampshire Fire & Rescue, Fire Authority
* Cllr B Cope Chairman, Kent & Medway Fire & Rescue Authority
* Cllr Mrs J Heathcoat Cabinet Member Community Safety, Oxfordshire County Council
* Cllr M Murphy Chairman, East Sussex Fire Authority
* Cllr D Rowlands Chairman, Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Combined Fire Authority
* Cllr Mrs C Stevens Executive Member Safer & Stronger Communities, Surrey County Council
* Cllr D Tuson JP Chair, Isle of Wight Fire Authority, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities
* = Present
CFO J Bonney Hampshire
CFO M Burrell West Sussex
CFO I Cox Royal Berkshire
CFO R Pearson Surrey
CFO D Prichard East Sussex
CFO D Smith Buckinghamshire
CFO P Street Isle of Wight
DCFO M Smyth Oxfordshire
ACO C Kerr Kent
Sue Klein East Sussex
The Chairman reminded Members of the tragic deaths of John Averis, Ian Reid, Ashley Stephens, and Darren Yates-Badley, four firefighters from Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service who had died while attending a fire at a warehouse fire in Atherstone on Stour at the beginning of November 2007. Members, officers and members of the public stood in silence for one minute as a mark of respect.
Councillor Peter Evans, Cabinet Member for Public Protection, was welcomed to his first meeting of the Board, having been appointed in place of Councillor Lionel Barnard, who had been appointed Deputy Leader of West Sussex County Council, with a new portfolio.
Councillor Bertie Bassam (Kent) was welcomed to the meeting as a substitute member in the absence of Councillor Cope.
The Chairman informed Members that Parmjit Dhanda, the Fire Minister, had had to withdraw his acceptance of an invitation to attend this meeting of the Regional Management Board – he hoped to attend the next meeting on 2 April 2008.
54/07 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE (Item 1)
Councillor Cope (Kent) and CFO Hendry (Kent).
55/07 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST (Item 2)
There were none.
56/07 PROCEDURAL MATTERS (Item 3)
There were no questions from Members.
57/07 MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING (Item 4)
CFO Burrell (West Sussex) pointed out that paragraph 42/07, second para should have referred to ‘The LACC Company’ and not ‘The LACC Shadow Company’.
CFO Prichard (East Sussex) pointed out that paragraph 48/07, sixth para, should have read ‘Councillor Mrs Stevens (Surrey) asked whether CLG was considering a merger of the FRS with the other emergency services and was informed that, whilst FireLink could facilitate greater collaborative arrangements between emergency services, there were no plans to do so.’ and not ‘…FireLink was a step in that direction and that more work would be done to see whether any joint working was possible, eg in training.’
RESOLVED – That subject to the above amendments, the minutes of the RMB meeting held on 10 October 2007 be approved and signed by the Chairman.
CFO Burrell assured Councillor Mrs Heathcoat (Oxfordshire) that confirmation had been received that CLG would continue to pay the salary of the RCC Director if there was a delay beyond the planned cutover in 2010 (para 46/07). It was also noted that Peter Betts had not yet responded to the queries raised under paragraph 47/07 and the Chairman agreed to send him a reminder.
58/07 EQUALITY & DIVERSITY PEER REVIEW (Item 5)
The Chairman welcomed Doug Feery from the I&DeA to the meeting who gave a presentation on Peer Reviews (appendix 1) (download as .ppt file).
Members discussed a draft briefing note which had been circulated prior to the meeting and which detailed the progress made since September 2007 in working toward Level 3 of the Equality Standard for Local Government. CFO Bonney (Hampshire) suggested that the presentation and briefing note be shared with the HR work stream, as the Equality & Diversity sub-group needed work with DCFO Sear (West Sussex) to produce an achievable action plan.
Councillor Mrs Stevens ((Surrey) found the presentation helpful and stressed the importance of keeping the processes simple, to add value to the work being done in individual Authorities. Councillor Murphy (East Sussex) was looking forward to receiving his Authority’s report which he would share with the Chief Fire Officer and Equality & Diversity Lead Member. He was concerned that the processes should not interfere with Authorities’ governance.
CFO Burrell (West Sussex) supported the views expressed and would support CFO Bonney in taking this forward with the HR work stream. Members recognised the difficulties experienced by some County FRSs, who were having to work at the pace and the direction of their County Councils, and agreed that a further report should be brought to the meeting of the RMB in October. This would monitor the progress made, identifying any gaps, and state whether the December 2008 target was likely to be achieved.
1) a further report be brought to the October 2008 meeting of the RMB; and
2) CFO Bonney take this work forward with the HR work stream.
59/07 PROGRESS AGAINST PLAN (Item 6)
ACO Kerr (Kent) presented a report that set out the progress made for the period October to December 2007 against each of the work streams in the regional business plan. It was noted that, in general, good progress was being made. Members noted several key issues that had arisen during this quarter:
The government had amended Building Bulletin 100, which now includes a presumption that new schools will be fitted with automatic fire suppression equipment. This was a step forward in the campaign supported by the RMB to promote the installation of sprinklers wherever they may save life and reduce risk.
Members also noted the progress being made in achieving further funding through the capacity building route. It appeared that the bid approved by the RMB at the last meeting had met the requirements of the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership, and a decision on actual levels of funding for fire and rescue authorities in the South East would be forthcoming in Spring 2008.
It was also noted that the Local Authority Controlled Company for the Regional Control Centre had appointed its Chief Executive.
Councillor Murphy (East Sussex) had chaired a LGA Task Group that had worked with the Government to bring about the introduction of BB100 and it was noted that they were now moving forward with plans to protect other vulnerable people.
Councillor Bryant (Royal Berkshire) sought advice on how to influence his Authority, which was using the cost of installing sprinklers as a reason not to go ahead – he was assured that the tests were designed in such a way that, if applied correctly, in 99% of cases sprinklers would have to be installed.
RESOLVED – That
1) the progress made be noted; and
2) the letter from the Minister in relation to sprinklers in schools be noted.
60/07 PROCUREMENT WINS OVER THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS (Item 7)
CFO Parry (Oxfordshire) presented a report that advised Members of the ‘Procurement Wins’ the Regional Procurement Work Stream had achieved over the last 12 months.
To date, the Regional Procurement Manager had been focussed on raising the profile of strategic, regional procurement and developing the regional procurement work stream team, accelerating the ‘quick wins’, progressing the targets set out by the RMB procurement work stream and developing a regional collaborative procurement strategy.
Andrew Hughes from the Audit Commission was attending the meeting for the next item and commented that he thought the SE RMB was making progress on procurement issues and had already managed to deliver a number of outcomes. Approaches to procurement, and the efficiencies the RMB could deliver by this means, was something the Commission wanted CAA, DoT and UoR to give more emphasis to in future. He mentioned that the work of the SE RMB was something the Audit Commission would be commenting on in their national report at the end of the month.
The Chairman congratulated CFO Parry on how much had been achieved over a short period.
RESOLVED – That the progress and achievements made by the work stream over the last 12 months be noted.
61/07 COMPREHENSIVE AREA ASSESSMENTS (Item 8)
The Chairman welcomed Andrew Hughes from the Audit Commission to the meeting who gave a presentation on Comprehensive Area Assessments (appendix 2) (download as .ppt file).
Councillor Rowlands (Buckinghamshire) stated that, whilst the FRAs in the South East recognised the broadening range of activities that the Commission proposed to introduce in the coming year, there was genuine concern about the significant increase in fees being proposed. He also asked what the Commission could do to provide greater support to FRAs in the South East, particularly in terms of these costs and the exceptionally difficult settlement falling out of CSR 2007.
Mr Hughes explained that the consultation on the Commission’s proposed increase in fees was genuine, and they were looking at how they could mitigate the effect on FRAs, where they recognised the fees impacted most heavily. Some of the proposed increases were beyond the Audit Commission’s control, e.g. all government accounts would have to use the International Financial Reporting Standards with effect from 2008/09. The Commission also undertook Use of Resources assessments of FRAs and, following consultation, would now assess FRAs on the same basis as all other local authorities. The Commission would ensure that, in future, the quality of data used by FRAs to measure performance could be relied on to assist with decision making by the Commission and FRAs. He also stated that the fee levels quoted in the consultation were set at the maximum and, as always, fees were subject to local negotiation.
Councillor Rowlands also questioned how integrated self-assessment would operate, but Mr Hughes was unable to give a definitive answer as trials were underway. Lastly, Councillor Rowlands made a plea that those councillors carrying our peer assessments of FRAs should have FRA experience. Mr Hughes explained that the I&DeA were contracted to provide assessors and had requested volunteers to go through the accreditation process – he would ensure that they were aware of the request for more FRA councillor involvement with FRA assessments.
Councillor Mrs Stevens (Surrey) asked whether the collaborative working arrangements would be measured in a standard way for each area, and Mr Hughes stated that there would be more local arrangements, with LAAs being agreed by a government office to enable a basis for common assessment. There would be less of a ‘league table’ approach, and the Commission would check how areas of importance were identified by LAAs.
Councillor Murphy (East Sussex) hoped that the Audit Commission recognised the great strides the South East had made over the last few years and would work with us more in the future. He also had grave concerns about the proposed increase in fees, which FRAs would have to absorb. Councillor Bryant (Royal Berkshire) asked to see how the increase in fees was made up, and who audits the Audit Commission. Mr Hughes replied that the National Audit Office was the auditor of the Audit Commission and they were working on a number of studies to give a commentary on how well the inspection of the Fire & Rescue Service had been undertaken.
Councillor Evans (West Sussex) was also concerned that the costs of having to pay for improvements had not been budgeted.
Mr Hughes had taken on board Members comments regarding the proposed increase in fees and assured them that the Commission was already absorbing some increased costs. The increase sought was the maximum that would be required, and local auditors would negotiate the amount of work to be done locally which would determine the level of fee required. It was also noted that CLG would continue to grant-fund Direction of Travel work for the FRSs for the foreseeable future.
62/07 UPDATE ON RCC (INCLUDING FIRELINK and FIRECONTROL) (Item 9)
CFO Burrell (West Sussex) gave a presentation that updated Members on the Regional Control Centre, FireLink and FireControl projects (appendix 3) (download as .ppt file) and it was noted that there would be a regional communications event regarding FireLink in London on 25 March, which CFO Burrell encouraged Members to attend.
CFO Burrell assured Councillor Murphy (East Sussex) that the slippages to the FireControl timetable should be the last, and that FireLink was now on target. He also assured CFO Prichard (East Sussex) that the transition costs appeared to be covered, and that a Fire Service Circular would be issued regarding this in the next few weeks.
The Chairman thanked CFO Burrell for his hard work on this project.
63/07 FEEDBACK FROM RMB CHAIRS NATIONAL EVENT (Item 10)
Councillor Cartwright (Hampshire) updated Members on the recent national event held for RMB Chairs and Vice Chairs, at which Improvement and Leadership were discussed. Risks had been identified around variances in IRMPs and the loss of competitiveness since the introduction of FireBuy – a complete review of FireBuy was discussed, to ensure that it did not become another government quango. Each Region had made a presentation, and the Chairman had taken SEFIP as his subject.
The Vice Chairman had also found the day very interesting, especially the national views on FireBuy and the huge diversity on the way companies were running their RCCs.
64/07 NATIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR FIRE & RESCUE AUTHORITIES (Item 11)
CFO Bonney (Hampshire) presented a report that sought approval of a regional response to the consultation on the new National Framework for Fire and Rescue Authorities.
The Communities and Local Government (CLG) was consulting on a draft National Framework to cover the period from 2008 to 2011. The draft was a significant departure from previous versions in that it sought to be a shorter, more concise and more strategic document, with fewer ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds.’ The Framework was structured into four distinct chapters dealing with Prevention, Protection & Response; Resilience; Workforce & Diversity; and Governance & Improvement.
CFO Bonney talked about the role of the RMB in promoting resilience within the region in the broader sense – this was not covered at all in the Civil Contingencies Act – and in co-ordinating IRMPs within the region.
RESOLVED – That the draft response be approved.
65/07 EQUALITY & DIVERSITY STRATEGY (Item 12)
CFO Bonney (Hampshire) presented a report that sought approval of a response to the consultation on the Fire & Rescue Service Equality & Diversity Strategy.
It was noted that consultation had taken place with the South East Regional Equality & Diversity Group to develop the response.
CFO Bonney mentioned the increased emphasis placed on employment targets within the Strategy, which it was felt were overplayed – it was considered more important to embed diversity within the organisation’s business. It was also questioned why the Local Government Standard was not used for reporting on equality and diversity issues.
RESOLVED – That the draft response be approved.
66/07 DATES OF NEXT MEETINGS (Item 13)
Wednesday 2 April, 9 July, 8 October 2008, 21 January and 1 April 2009.
The Chairman reminded Members that the next meeting would be the AGM, when a new Chair would be elected, and he thanked Members and Officers for their attendance and contributions throughout the last year.
67/07 EXCLUSION OF THE PRESS AND PUBLIC
There were no items for which the press and public were excluded.
The meeting closed at 13.10 hours.