Fire Accountability Board Minutes 10 May 2022




PFCC Stephen Mold (SM)

Paul Fell (PF)

Helen King (HK)

Louise Sheridan (LS)

CFO Darren Dovey (DD)

ACFO Shaun Hallam (SH)

Area Manager Kerry Blair (KB)

Assistant Chief Officer Paul Bullen (PB)

Joint Head of Finance Nick Alexander (NA)


Minutes and Actions from previous meeting


SM welcomed everyone to the meeting

Apologies were accepted from ACFO Rob Porter and Nicci Marzec

The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.

Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated.

In respect of Firefighter recruitment and establishment plans. PF, NA and HK had attended a very positive meeting with SH, HR, KH. The Service and HR had taken away a number of actions and guidance and PF and HK explained that once detailed establishment forecasts and plans had been provided and signed off by the PFCC then recruitment would become BAU, in exactly the same way as it was with Policing. Whilst this action has been removed from the action log as it should be BAU. Fire have outstanding actions from the meeting to provide the establishment and recruitment forecasts and plans to HK and PF. These will be reviewed by the PFCC and once considered and signed off, recruitment can become BAU.

Action – Fire to provide establishment plans to PF and HK to consider in order that they may be signed off and commitments made for future recruitment.



Internal Audit update


The Commissioner requires a report to provide an overview of all internal audits completed in 2021/2022, outlining all recommendations made, whether these have been accepted, progress against completion of required activity and timescales for completion, where they remain outstanding.

  • Area Manager Kerry Blair provided a general overview and the key findings from the 2021-22 audit process for audit reports received to date.
  • As a stand-alone entity NCFRA are subject to internal and external auditing.

Milton Keynes Internal Audit Service (via LGSS arrangements) conducted the internal auditing process for NCFRA.

  • In 2021/22 there have been 11 internal audits and gradings are provided for system and policy, compliance and organisational impact as follows.


System:             6 Good, 2 Limited, 2 In progress, 1 not yet commenced

Compliance:      4 Good, 1 satisfactory, 2 Limited, 1 Not Applicable, 2 In    progress, 1 not yet commenced

Impact: 5 minor, 2 Moderate, 1 not applicable, 2 in progress, 1 not yet commenced

  • NFRS has accepted the recommendations and has a process to manage what needs to be done and when.
  • The Commissioner was pleased that that there has been a move towards better compliance and progress has been made since the governance change which is reassuring.
  • Previously, there had been some issues with compliance being poor or inadequate.
  • Having reviewed the report, the Commissioner had a number of questions particularly on the data audit and the ICT System audit which were graded as limited.
  • Kerry advised that there are a few digital and technology issues to work through, but he has a meeting with the Chief Digital Officer when she returns from annual leave to progress these including getting the right infrastructure in place.
  • ACO Paul Bullen advised that Disaster Recovery Testing is ongoing particularly in relation to moving the infrastructure from Moulton Logistics Centre which has been vacated following the move to Darby House.
  • In terms of infrastructure, the team is coming together but there is currently less resource in this department, than there was when it was two separate entities.
  • New staff have been recruited but are currently going through vetting checks.
  • It is expected that assurance that will see a marked difference in a couple of months once people start.
  • There is also some work to do to bridge the knowledge gap between police and fire systems and bring both cultures together.
  • Since the report was written the payroll and AP/AR draft audits have been received. This shows policy as good, compliance as satisfactory and the overall organisational risk as minor. SM commented he was aware the payroll audit included the recommendations for the appropriate paperwork to be completed and to be undertaken in a timely manner.
  • There was a discussion about the Data Audit – This is a key area that includes the delivery of information and performance data.
  • ACO Paul Bullen advised that a lot of work on this in underway with a pilot planned but not yet in place. A portfolio business case has been approved and a Performance management framework has also been agreed.
  • Currently there are some systems in place to ensure there is no information security risk however these are largely manual and take a lot of time.
  • The Commissioner reiterated that he was pleased with the progress that had been made and wanted to know if additional investment in bringing people in sooner would help.
  • There was a discussion about the role of JIAC in monitoring recommendations but HK advised whilst this complemented the assurance required by the PFCC, she recommended he still needed assurance on the limited areas.

Action – PB to provide an update on the two limited audits (Particularly Data Quality) in 6 months’ time to the Accountability Board. The next full report will be due in  12 months’ time.

  • There was a discussion about Power BI, an interactive data visualization software product developed by Microsoft with primary focus on business intelligence versus QLIK, a business analytics platform used by the Force.
  • ACO Paul Bullen advised that the Chief Digital Officer is currently reviewing the associated costs of Power BI to ensure he has a like for like comparison.
  • It was agreed that the progress on the Data Quality and ICT System audits would be bought back to the Accountability Board in 6 months.

Assurance Statement:

The Commissioner was assured that the Fire and Rescue Service now had a process in place to manage internal audits; an improvement from when he took over governance of NFRS and that real progress was now being made.

Whilst adherence to Policy had generally always been rated as good, this was not the case with compliance, but the Commissioner was now very pleased to see that compliance was now much better.

There was a discussion over the audits relating to IT systems and data quality, which were areas where some deficiencies had been identified. He was provided with some assurances that work was underway to address these and while progress had not been as fast as he would like, this was being hindered by staff changes in the restructure of D&T as a department, which again was on course to be resolved.

The Commissioner stated that he would require an update on these two audit reports and progress in 6 months’ time.


Health & Safety Update


The NFRS health and safety policy requires an annual presentation on Health and Safety performance to the PFCC.

The PFCC requires a report to the accountability board of the health and safety performance over the period 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2022, which meets the needs of internal policy.

  • Area Manager Kerry Blair provided an overview of the Annual Health and Safety report which was created by Jo Davis, Health and Safety Manager, supported by David McInally, Head of Joint Estates and Facilities.
  • The report examines NFRS health and safety issues and gives background information about service policies, health and safety management achievements and performance objectives.
  • Overall, the assessment is good and reported injuries are low.
  • NFRS complies with its duty under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences.
  • There was a discussion about the most frequently recorded incidents. The most common being moving/handling/lifting.
  • The Chief Fire Officer explained that whilst staff receive manual handling training it is typically these that result in injury – have equipment but lots of bending and twisting to get round corners etc without having ability to warm up first.
  • The Commissioner was assured but genuinely interested in what types of manual handling incidents are most common

Action – KB agreed to provide a breakdown of the most common manual handling/lifting incidents.

  • The Operational Assurance Board continually monitors training and practices.
  • No serious incidents recorded which is reassuring.
  • There was a discussion about when was the most appropriate time for the Annual Health & safety Report to come before the Accountability Board.
  • It was agreed that next year it will go to the Fire Health and Safety Board first and then be presented to the Commissioner after that.
  • The responsibility of addressing any H&S issues sit with this committee which will then provide additional assurance to the Commissioner.
  • There was a discussion on an anomaly in recorded incidents in quarter 4 2017/2018.
  • This was reflected in a chart which showed the number of incidents recorded in each quarter since 2013/14.
  • Kerry Blair did not have the detail and agreed to find out more.

Action – KB to provide an explanation for the anomaly in recorded incidents in quarter 4 2017/18.

Assurance Statement:

The Commissioner welcomed this report and the fact that it provided him with assurances that health and safety processes in the service were robust, with reducing numbers of incidents being reported. The processes appeared to both mitigate risks to staff and the public and allow for effective reporting. He drew comfort from the fact that even in the small number of incidents that were required to be reported to HSE, no action was taken by them.

The Chief Fire Officer reported to the Commissioner that he was satisfied that Health and Safety processes in place were appropriate and satisfactory.


Emergency Cover Review


The Commissioner requires a paper outlining the status and progress in the delivery of the NFRS Emergency Cover Review, to include terms of reference.

  • The Emergency Cover Review is designed to deliver a detailed analysis and recommendations, in order to provide options for the future level of Fire & Rescue cover across Northamptonshire.
  • Recommendations from the review are expected to be presented at the October 2022 Accountability Board.
  • There is currently no capacity within NFRS or within Enabling Services to conduct the review, so Chief Officers are seeking support from an external company and project manager.
  • A leading company within the UK and global Fire and Rescue Services who are already approved on the ESPO Consultancy Framework will be appointed to conduct the review.
  • An update was provided on progress to date
  • In terms of the structure for the review, the Commissioner requested the Terms of reference – without this he is unable to assure himself that the review covers everything. For example, in the structure list he did not see lead names for HR or IT and he is keen to ensure this is not assumed but implicit.
  • The Commissioner requested the effective and efficient delivery appendix which was missing from the paper to be provided.
  • The Commissioner sought assurance that the project team would include all relevant expertise to inform the review (e.g. HR, Finance and other specialisms) – DD assured him that all relevant specialists would be included in the review and the paper had only set out the operational project team, not all who would be involved.
  • The Emergency Cover Review is the vehicle by which the future shape of the organisation will be determined, so that it can provide the best service possible to the residents of Northamptonshire as we move towards 2030.
  • Trend data will be an important element of the review on statutory obligations as well as special services such as water and animal rescues as well as attendance at RTCs and assisting EMAS.
  • Whilst the overall beneficiaries of the review will be the people of Northamptonshire any recommendations that come out of the review have to be both deliverable and affordable.
  • ACO Paul Bullen advised that the Service Request and Cool Off Contract for the contractor is ready for completion by the Business and Commercial Development team once operational Fire colleagues have provided the details of the service being requested by the proposed contractor. KB advised he will speak to procurement to provide this.
  • All acknowledged that the TOR is essential in moving this forward and understanding what will be done.

Action – Kerry Blair and Darren Dovey to finalise and share the TOR by the end of the week (13th May)

  • There was a discussion about the project manager post mentioned in the report.
  • PB has checked and there is no capacity within corporate development to deliver the project once the Review is complete.
  • This post will need to be in place by October. Given the current vetting timescales, the advertisement and recruitment to this post needs to start now.
  • It is anticipated that vacant posts within the Service as a whole will fund the project manager post for a fixed term period of 12 months.
  • HK advised the PFCC has already supported meeting the Supplier costs for the review which will be ring fenced from reserves if required.
  • There was a discussion about whether the vacant posts were included on the Savings list. HK nd SB asked for assurance that the savings for these vacant posts would not be double counted and asked NA to keep her updated if additional funding is provided for this post as SM/HK have previously supported this if required.

Action – NA to keep HK updated on the financials.

Assurance Statement

The Commissioner received the report relating to progress on the emergency cover review that the Chief Fire Officer had proposed.

The Commissioner was largely content with the proposed process to be followed involving the appointment of an external supplier to assess demand and risk but was not content that the paper he had been provided with contained a defined terms of reference to be agreed to. The Chief Fire Officer agreed these would be provided as a matter of priority.

The Commissioner raised the point that the defined project team did not include representation from estates, fleet, finance and HR. The Chief Fire Officer assured him that this would be the case.

There was a discussion in relation to timescales for this review, and the proposed times from the Chief Fire Officer involved two key dates, in July 2022 for the completion of risk and demand assessment and then October 2022 for the recommendations to be presented for agreement or adoption.


SAN H Airwave connection


Given some emerging concerns about the NFRS SAN H connection allowing access to the Airwave communication system and the life of this the Commissioner requires an update on this, to include

  1. Did NFRS properly engage or respond with the other services for the DCS upgrade?
  2. Could NFRS still upgrade to DCS?
  3. Would there be a cost associated for the DCS upgrade and how will this be paid for?
  4. How will the risk be mitigated to ensure no adverse effects to NFRS carrying out their primary function from December 2022?

This can be in the form of a verbal update if required at the meeting, with a follow up written submission if this is the case.

  • NFRS are currently in a collaboration agreement with four other Fire and Rescue Services for SAN H services from Airwave Solutions Ltd.
  • The other four Services are Royal Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckingham and Milton Keynes and Warwickshire.
  • SAN H provides critical voice and data communications to allow NFRS to carry out their core primary function of responding to emergencies.
  • The SAN H equipment providing the network link to Airwave has been declared End of Life.
  • Airwave have offered to upgrade to a new system known as Dispatch Communication Server (DCS) to transfer the SAN H function to allow onward upgrade to ESN. They will cover the cost for the foreseeable future.
  • Due to the End of Life notice Royal Berkshire FRS engaged the other four partners to decide on a way forward.
  • NFRS did not attend the meetings and as a result it was assumed that they had an alternative solution and did not want to upgrade to the DCS so are not party to the extension contract that has been agreed until December 2025.
  • The new Integrated Communications Control System (ICCS) being implemented by Capita is not due to be delivered until September 2023, however there will be no dual running after December 2022. This will mean that for a period of 9 months, critical voice and data communications in emergency situations will be running on an unsupported yet essential connection.
  • ACO Paul Bullen advised that he is currently working with the Chief Fire Officer to get clarity. Still need to establish if someone in the organisation had contact with Thames Valley. Paul has appointed Andrew Jones in Digital Technology to pick up, lead, corral and coordinate.
  • Will have to upgrade to DCS but current control systems not good enough to connect to DCS so in terms of the gap, three options are being explored.
    • First and preferred is a change control request to keep the SAN H link open for longer.
    • SAN I option – currently mapping the operational impact and cost
    • If can piggy-back of the Police control system – May be more of a challenge and potentially not viable
    • The Commissioner requested both Paul Bullen and Paul Fell are invited to the ESMCP briefing being given by Simon Parr on Monday 16th May
    • LS forwarded the invite during the meeting.
  • Action – PB to provide final recommendations on the SAN H issue w/c 6th June.




  • No further business was raised.