Fire Accountability Board Minutes 12 December 2023

Welcome and introductions.



PFCC Stephen Mold (SM)

Paul Fell (PF)

Helen King (HK)

Vaughan Ashcroft (VA)

Nick Alexander (NA)

Kate Osborne (KO)

A/CFO Simon Tuhill (ST)

ACO Paul Bullen (PB)

A/ACFO Phil Pells (PP)



Louise Sheridan (LS)

David Peet (DP)

ACFO Rob Porter (RP)



Minutes and decisions of previous meeting


  • SM welcomed everyone to the meeting.
  • Minutes of the previous meeting were circulated with the meeting papers.


Draft Budget for 2024/25


  • NA presented paper outlining the proposed draft Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue budgets for 2024/25 based on two scenarios a 2.99% (£2.19) and £5 precept increases.
  • NA highlighted that year on year this process is refined and developed allowing officers to feel more confident about the process each time.
  • NA thanked Fire colleagues for their support and continual contact throughout the process. Mention was given to budget holders and planners
  • NA went through the report drawing attention to specific highlights throughout and topics for discussion.
  • It was noted that there has been an increase in the 2024/25 budget due to staff and firefighter pay awards, as the national awards were in excess of the levels budgeted in the previous financial year.
  • Consideration was also given to the current inflation concerns. For two years inflation has been was above settlement levels and this does have an impact. This has been factored in across the budget specifically within estates and ICT.
  • Vehicles also showing a 20% increase to reflect market conditions. It was noted that the service had done well in relation to spend on diesel.
  • Capital finance increases were not as much as previously thought.
  • SM asked if there was anything that could be done to mitigate increasing costs in relation to inflation pressures? – NA – looking into greener fuels, improving in relation to lessons learn and ensuring contractual arrangements are iron clad to ensure no unexpected costs. Example given in relation to gas and electric cost increase from current arrangements. NA – highlighted that there are some cost increases expected but no certainty about levels so this limits the mitigation able to occur.
  • SM – is there a longer term strategy around this? Do we have a steer from government about fleet? Concerned around risk in the future. NA – hope government plans would take into account the specialist requirement of fleet vehicles. This will become a part of commercial strategies moving forwards to relevant planning can be in place. SM – 15 year estates strategy to be considered in early 2024 – perhaps consideration of electrification of fleet could be included here?


  • Discussions around findings of ECR paper in relating to savings.


  • PB offered reassurance that there were individuals within service considering sustainability and looking at long term planning in this area.
  • HK 2.99% as the precept increase limit has been cited in the spending review for 24/25 which is well below inflation. Treasury supported £5 but the government proposals are 2.99% as set out in the DLUHC policy paper..
  • Discussions around precept flexibility
  • HK mentioned the final settlement taking account of responses is due 1st Week February 2024 (which is after the panel deadlines). Therefore if the PFCC wishes, the police, fire and crime panel could be presented with multiple proposals as done previously, although an increase on 2.99% is unlikely.
  • NA also raised concerns around estimated optimistic business rates position which is anticipated in early February. However, the funding reserve is available to mitigate this.

ACTION – HK will draft a response to the proposed settlement consultation before she leaves highlighting why flexibility is required for the pFCc and S151 to finalise in the new year.

  • SM asked about potential sources of income generation?
  • NA mentioned recharges and the potential that NFRS charge for services provided. However, these are due for review which may bring some increases but also need to be considered alongside economic sense and be appropriate.
  • ST highlighted cross boarder charges and consideration of these especially with demand increase for this for neighbouring Services. Consideration about this demand from border areas, for example Warwickshire.

ACTION – ST to consider cross-border charging for fire services with other Fire Chief Officers.


  • HK – noted the two recent Home Office reviews about utilisation and productivity and asked if there could be lessons learnt from these and if their finding could be used within Northamptonshire.
  • ST – mentioned that some consideration could be given, but he remains sceptical in part in relation to the target audiences of the surveys conducted. It was felt that they didn’t incorporate the whole workforce.
  • HK considered this, but felt that the national studies undertaken by the Home Office would continue alongside productivity and efficiency requirements (later confirmed in the providsional settlement) which the service should at least consider to examine learning and the benefits moving forwards.
  • SM was in agreement and felt consideration should be given to the survey for possible future operational arrangements.


  • Section 5.8 – SM asked for more clarification around Approved changes section. NA gave more detail.
  • HK asked for details around the increased requirement (£57K) for the Chief Fire Officer’s SLT contingency line in terms of what risk is being managed. NA said it reflected the same level of assumption on OPFCC contingency.HK asked why this was deemed necessary to increase the contingency if the budgets are zero based on need, the PFCC holds an inflation and other contingency, reserves are in place with a reserve strategy underpinning their usage and realistic pay award assumptions and pay contingency have been built in. NA explained this had been asked for by the service.
  • HK advised it looked like a “slush fund” and she was not supportive of this.


ACTION: SM to reflect on s 5.8 in relation to “Change to SLT Contingency” in reference to whether he supports the requested increase in this area.


  • SM noted that the budget was not balanced at this stage, and that consideration needed to be given regarding projects for innovation (for example the ECR review) which have not been proposed as investment requests nor included within the budget at present and which he had expected to see as an investment proposal
  • SM also reminded colleagues there was £1million kept aside in reserves to support investment requirements for the ECR implementation.
  • NA highlighted the graph in 6.2
  • SM asked for further clarity about deployable strength lines and what this shows. He asked if there was further work that could be done regarding abstractions.
  • NA provided explanation and noted that the dates (year) was wrong in the graph and it was projected figures for the forthcoming year.

ACTION: In the January budget request, NA to provide additional note in relation to graph 6.2 which details the numbers of those in training during the monthly figures and update year dates on the graph.

  • Further discussions were had around release of Fire Reform white paper


ACTION: SM and VA to discuss section 9 as these are currently proposals and not agreed


  • It was noted that business rates will not be confirmed until after 31st January and no confirmation had been received from West Northants council about their proposed council tax base other than to advise that it would be lower than previous estimates
  • NA also noted that even at 2.99% (the most likely scenario) ,there was a £1m shortfall to be found from the service (although this does include over £120K of investment requests). However, in his view, deficit decisions feel more manageable in this financial year
  • SM asked about a timeline in relation to amendments and adjustments of 2024/25. HK advised that as in previous years, the final requested draft budget and proposals to balance the budget need to be submitted by the Chief Fire Officer  to present to the January accountability board.




 The Commissioner thanked all that had been involved in the drafting of this budget report for their work. He made it clear that based on the current planning assumptions he was likely to be constrained to a maximum precept increase of 2.99% for the Fire and Rescue Service. He agreed with the Chief Fire Officer to write to the Minister with a pleas for additional flexibility for those services in the bottom quartile to have additional flexibility.

The Commissioner did ask the Chief Fire Officer following a wider discussion to consider where the service might consider a charge for specialist services provided, starting with, at the suggestion of the Chief Fire Officer cross border service provision.

The Commissioner welcomed the fact that significant work had been undertaken to get to this point but at this moment the budget was not balanced, and he was required to deliver this. He reminded the Chief Fire Officer that when the paper returned in January it needed to clearly outline the details of a required savings plan.



Investment Proposals


3 investment proposals were included in the report pack.

  1. Hydrant Technician
  • It was noted that it appears to be the same business case as a year ago. It is a CF for 21/22
  • With over 14,000 hydrants to maintain and check, it is a high demand job for one person. It was identified there was still a gap to ensure maintenance and testing are completed in a timely manner.
  • Delays have occurred with this project due to recruitment process delays.
  • HK highlighted that this resource was first requested as part of the 21/22 outturn report and has been carried over and picked up in 23/24 and 24/25 budget proposal discussions. HK gave her view that this operational requirement needs to be addressed permanently by the service rather than continually requested as a carry forward.


  1. Home Safety Team/ Use of Casual Hours Staff
  • LB difficult to allocate these jobs to crews. So need this provision for these types of risks.
  • Darren Dovey as a previous Chief Fire Officer asked for an assessment of what this looks like and the demand and this was done.
  • Previous plans were assessed and it is felt that it would be more productive for a casual hours team to cover these visits so that if demand decreases, the service would not be paying for unnecessary roles/ hours/ work.
  • HK – advised that her advice at the time of the original March 2022 proposal was that the business case did not stack up and it was not realistic and was not supportive, however, at that time the then Chief Fire Officer felt it was the best way forward and recommended it as such to the PFCC. Therefore she understands (and is not surprised) the issues have not been resolved and there is a need to ensure a permanent operational resolution is in place. HK did not give a view as to whether this is the best option as that is for the Chief Fire Officer o determine, but she does understand the operational challenge highlighted.
  • HK – her advice to the Chief Fire Officer is that this second request needs to make sure a justified decision is made this time.
  • ST – will take away and discuss with operational colleagues for and revision or resubmission of this proposal outside of accountability board


  1. Youth engagement officer:
  • SM can there be some engagement with the OPFCC youth team to discuss this project?
  • LB – preliminary chats with JJ earlier in the year to start the ball rolling.
  • Hk explained she had shared the proposal and discussed it with JJ the day before the meeting and JJ would welcome a discussion to ensure that synergies could be achieved and duplication minimised in any proposal.
  • SM and HK requested further consultation with JJ before SM will consider this proposal


ACTION: fire colleagues will review investment and budget proposals in line with 2024/25 budget with consideration given to balancing the budget by the need to establish savings and or other sources of income moving forwards. The paper to be provided to the January Accountability Board in order that the PFCC can make a determination on the budget and his preferred precept proposal.




No further business was raised.