Welcome and introductions
PFCC Stephen Mold (SM)
Paul Fell (PF)
Nicci Marzec (NM)
Helen King (HK)
Louise Sheridan (LS)
CFO Darren Dovey (DD)
ACFO Shaun Hallam (SH)
Minutes and decisions of previous meeting
SM welcomed everyone to the meeting
Apologies were accepted from ACFO Rob Porter
- The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.
- Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated.
Budget Conditions letter update
As part of the budget setting process for 2021/2022, the Commissioner and Chief Fire Officer agreed a budget conditions letter outlining areas that were to be delivered in this financial year.
The Commissioner requires a paper to demonstrate the progress made at year end, on the delivery of these agreed outcomes and measures
- CFO Dovey provided an update on progress that Fire have made to this point against matters agreed in the budget conditions letter for 2021/22
- He advised that the last Outturn he had seen was in December.
- HK confirmed that Nick Alexander had a Outturn report for January
- DD will ask Nick Alexander to provide the January Outturn report.
- There was a discussion about continuing accruals and carry forwards which CFO Dovey advised have been more difficult to control because of Covid
- HK confirmed these will be picked up in the outturn report for 2021/22
- There was a discussion about the Capital Programme, all elements of which have been subject to a full review with heads of departments and the OPFCC.
- The capital programme review was complete for 31 October as required for the budget and used to inform the MTFP.
- Having been reviewed on several occasions and accepting that the capital programme was more affordable, the Commissioner sought assurance on whether it was now deliverable within the agreed timescales.
- Slippage on delivery, particularly within IT and fleet could have an effect on the capital outturn and the revenue finance plan.
- CFO Dovey advised that the Chief Digital Officer and the Head of Joint Transport and Logistics are making a difference to deliverability.
- There was a discussion about the recent special grant of £500k from the Home Office.
- Following lobbying from the OPFCC requesting additional support to address some of the legacy capital programme challenges faced by NCRFA, the Home Office awarded a special grant of £500k.
- HK confirmed this is capital funding which will not affect the revenue costs of capital for 21/22. Once the revenue and capital year has closed (May/June) the capital programme and revenue costs of financing capital will be re-run and the grant included in order to minimise those costs in the most effective way which is likely to be short life assets
- HK also confirmed that the capital programme will also include any updates from the Estates Board (13th April 2022.
- Everything will continue to be applied in the most cost-effective manner and whilst there is less flexibility in the ongoing revenue base budget there is some flexibility I to support one-offs
- The Commissioner recognised the significant milestone that the Service is now sustainable as a result of the additional investment that has been secured.
- There was a discussion on the capital plan for vehicles.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that this is currently based on like for like replacement. Going forward this is not likely to be the case which will also help.
- There was a discussion about Internal controls.
- The Commissioner was pleased to see that better processes had led to improvements which have been noted in the findings of several audit reports.
- Formal confirmation of improved financial control is expected when the audits are finalised in May/June
- There was a discussion about future savings.
- In January 2022 a paper was presented at the Accountability Bard outlining a 3-year balanced budget.
- There was a discussion about the agreed £350k of cashable savings identified during 2021/22 which have been incorporated into the 2022/23 budgets.
- The Commissioner was keen to understand how these savings are being progressed – he wants to ensure this remains on track to ensure long term stability
- The Chief Fire officer confirmed that the utilisation for injury had been achieved. The rest are in progress under the management of Assistant Chief Officer Paul Bullen via Enabling Services.
- There was a discussion about staffing and ensuring that there is workforce planning and staffing forecasts in place to inform recommendations to the PFCC about future recruitment, to ensure they are affordable and timely to meet operational need.
- ACFO Hallam confirmed a balanced scorecard had been produced for Establishment which includes wholetime firefighters, fire staff and fire control.
- A meeting is scheduled to go through these and any recommendations for future recruitment will be made to the Commissioner after these discussions.
Action – SH will talk PF and HK through the balance scorecards, future establishment monitoring requirements and the data within them.
- There was a discussion on abstractions, retirees, new recruits, overtime, and bank staff.
- The number of people being paid versus the number of people available is always different. With covid absence overlaid looks worse than is
- The Commissioner suggested that a strategic review of absenteeism and the impact that covid has had would be beneficial.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that covid absence effects daytime availability. Night-time availability is fine.
- Using OT to backfill. This is because can no longer rely on the on-call staff who have now largely gone back to jobs
- There was a discussion about the newest firefighter recruits (18 started with NFRS in April). 14 will go to fire college and be on the run in August. Four were on call firefighters. They will undertake their training in their assigned station.
- Following the discussion on establishment, expected retirement and absence levels, the Commissioner stated that he is keen to understand the requirements for the next recruitment window to ensure that response times and service levels remain consistent.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed Covid absence largely effects daytime availability. Using overtime to backfill as retained firefighters have now gone back to their day jobs. Night-time is fine.
- HK advised that as with the approach taken for policing, workforce planning data will inform recruitment need for the medium term before further recruitment is agreed.
- HK would be unable to take a professional view and give commissioner advice on the financial impact until they have this workforce planning data.
- The Commissioner would also like to understand the impact of Community Safety Officers should this concept and recruitment be brought forward.
- There was a discussion about the current Pension challenge – some staff will stay to 55 to access the 2015 parts of their pension; HR are currently looking at the numbers.
- PF commented on the similarity with the pension issue in policing a few tears ago. Everybody stayed 30 years but changes to the pension scheme means there are now a lot more variables and it is now much harder to predict as a result.
- HK advised that Fire obtaining operational, financial and HR professional estimates is next stage and once they share that data we will be in a better position to consider and advise the Commissioner to review.
- The Commissioner reiterated that he is open to new recruitment but wants to see the evidence first.
- Mindful that the recruitment process is likely to take 2 – 3 months and has to be outsourced as HR is not set up to run the recruitment portal or psychometric tests.
- Returning to retirees, Chief Fire Officer Dovey advised that some retirees are not getting pension forecasts until a couple of days before they retire.
- HK agreed and confirmed that Nick Alexander is having to pick up a lot of additional work around this.
- Issue relates to outsourced provided from when the NFRS was part of the County Council.
- The Commissioner asked for a couple of practical examples so that he could escalate. Post meeting HK asked PB for examples – PB advised they were not in all instances
ACTION – HK will ask PB for examples. And if required after review, NM write to chief execs. SM pick up with leaders
- There was a discussion about Enabling Services.
- The move into Darby House has been completed this financial year.
- The garage workshop is progressing albeit slower than originally intended with a 2023 timeline currently anticipated.
- TUPE of staff from fire to police took place on 1st March 2022.
- All of the fleet team have new laptops as part of the Office 365 upgrade programme however the Chief Fire Officer raised an issue with a new staff member in the Protection team not yet having a laptop adding that it is the small delivery stuff that creates tension.
- It was agreed that within enabling services, Finance and Fleet are the most advanced.
- HR and ICT still have some way to go before considered mature.
- ACFO Shaun Hallam gave an example of ICT issues over the weekend with Fire Watch
ACTION – SM will raise in his next 1-2-1 with Paul Bullen
- There was a discussion about Warwickshire Control and the potential to be hosted by Northamptonshire
- The Commissioner agreed that it makes sense to work up plan but on basis that NFRS still aim to have a joint Control Room with police.
- The Commissioner would review any proposals brought forward.
ACTION – CFO Dovey to have the conversation with Warwickshire
- There was a discussion about the completed Agilisys review which is being progressed under Chief Digital Officer.
- The Commissioner wanted to know when he could expect to see the outcomes of the review.
ACTION – It was agreed that Paul Fell would ask for an update on the timeline from Paul Bullen.
- There was a discussion about Youth Diversion/Engagement and the review of the Emergency Service Cadets.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that the NESC Charity Board had passed it resolution for dissolution. Service leads continue to work together to ensure the scheme can still be developed whilst police post-holders are finalised.
- The Commissioner agreed to raise this at the Force Accountability Board as the review was being led by them
ACTION – LS to add to AOB on the Force Accountability Board Agenda. The meeting will be taking place later the same day.
ACTION – HK will ask CR for a copy of the NESC Charity Board accounts.
- There was a discussion about the additional Protection Grant funding for 22/23 and the proposed use of grant funding;
- So far grant money has been spent on infrastructure with the exception of a fixed term administrator post (funded for 2 years).
- Focus now on uplift for medium rise premises coming on stream with caveat/challenge that only have funding for 1 year.
- HK advised the Home Office confirmed protection grant funding for 22/23 is slightly lower than previous years. However, the Home Office have advised HK that if it is not allocated on other priorities, the CSR set for next 3 years includes protection grant in every year, although it is possible future years will be based on spending of grants to date.
- There was a discussion about previous Protection grants that were allocated by the Home Office but not spent in Northamptonshire as with many other Fire Services. In Northamptonshire, there are plans in place to spend this funding.
- CFO Dovey advised that the Services’ that have spent the grants were the ones with lots of high rises who issued contracts for inspections to be done rather than employ people to do them.
- It was agreed that all one off investment is in train and there is a need and an opportunity to fund permanent investment to meet the grant requirements with the Commissioner bear the risk if future grants were not received in 23/24 and 24/25.CFO Dovey will scope out permanent use of the Grant funding for 22/23 (and assumed level for two further years) for the Commissioner to review.
- The Commissioner advised that he would like to see a 3 year plan to understand what the risks look like to be able to make a professional assumption.
- HK advised the 22/23 figures are additional funding in year as the budget has already been set. Furthermore, as future years grants are not formally advised, grants after 22/23 will not be included within the MTFP at this stage. Therefore, a prudent assumption would be made of the Commissioner bearing the risk if the proposal is approved which would be met by grants should they be made.
ACTION – DD to firm up an investment proposal which assumes ongoing funding of the protection grant each year at the 22/23 levels.
The Commissioner received this report, which was the last in a series of reports prepared in the 2021/2022 financial year. He was pleased and assured that financial processes appeared to have continued to mature, leading to less volatility and greater internal controls.
The Commissioner was generally pleased with progress in most areas relating to the budget conditions letter. He did request that growth in protection assets were built into current available financial envelope but with the inclusion of assumed Grenfell grants
- The Commissioner asked the Chief Fire Officer for an update on the Operational Review.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that ACFO Rob Porter is the SRO
- The Chief Fire Officer explained that the Operational review is in two parts; Fire cover review is appliances and locations to manage risk then Duty systems on how to resource that.
- ACFO Porter has spoken to procurement on which providers are suitable for tender.
- Once the risk model is known, the provider can be given a specification along with risk data and asked to model a range of scenarios.
- In the meeting, HK asked Procurement for an update and was advised and shared in the meeting that Rob has approached procurement and given name of company. As such procurement are looking at potential frameworks. However, Fire need to develop a specification of what is required so that companies can then quote.
ACTION – Fire to provide a TOR which can come as part of the May accountability board update in an appendix.