Fire Accountability Board Minutes 13 February 2024

Welcome and introductions.



PFCC Stephen Mold (SM)

Paul Fell (PF)

Vaughan Ashcroft (VA)

Louise Sheridan (LS)

Nick Alexander (NA)

A/CFO Simon Tuhill (ST)

A/ACFO Phil Pells

ACO Paul Bullen (PB)

GM Ro Cutler (RC)

Heather Francis (HF)



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.


HMICFRS inspection updates


The Commissioner requires a report from the Chief Fire Officer on two issues:


The preparedness for a HMICFRS inspection in 2024, to assure him that effective arrangements are in place to manage and deal with this inspection.


The progress made in responding to the 2021 HMICFRS inspection of the service. In particular this should provide an assessment and view relating to progress against the AFI and Cause of Concern highlighted as a part of that inspection.


This report does not need to provide a detailed analysis and description of each action but an overall opinion of progress being made.


  • The report provided was taken as read, with GM Ro Cutler providing additional commentary.
  • A ‘HMI Ready Team’ has been assembled comprising individuals with expertise in various areas relevant to the inspection criteria.
  • The team is led by ACFO Phil Pells with assistance from AM Andy Esson (transferred to AM Lisa Jackson) and GM Ro Cutler.
  • The key objectives of the HMI Ready Team are to provide inspection governance and accountability, be self-assured going into HMI 24 inspection and to capture learning and improve our preparedness for future inspections.
  • A rigorous review of the HMICFRS criteria and standards has been conducted to ensure a clear understanding of expectations.
  • The team are also communicating with staff to remind them of all the work that has been done since the last inspection.
  • The Commissioner recognised the preparation arrangements for the inspection process itself and that this was actively led at a senior level with appropriate governance arrangements in place.
  • The Commissioner expressed some concern about changes to the HMICFRS grading system (good to adequate) and questioned whether there were any areas where the Service had stood still.
  • From the current round of inspections, it was clear that the HMIC bar has been raised and highlighted the risk that areas previously graded as ‘good’ could be re-graded as ‘adequate’.
  • The A/Chief Fire Officer acknowledged this risk but confirmed that significant progress has been made on the ‘People Pillar’.
  • A/ACFO Pells provided some additional reassurance that the team has completed a lot of cross mapping against other Services as detailed in the appendix.
  • The focus has been on the ‘people pillar’ which was important however, the Service has still made progress in other areas, and would therefore be surprised if it went backwards.
  • The Commissioner acknowledged and reiterated that he did not want to see, nor expect, any requires improvement gradings.
  • A/ACFO Pells highlighted the work that has been done since the Grenfell report and also examples of some really good partnership work.
  • There is a ‘ Learning culture’ now and has also learnt from colleagues in the HMI team in policing to always be ready.
  • The A/Chief Fire Officer acknowledged that the Commissioner had made a fair challenge on whether the Service has made enough progress but reiterated that he is comfortable that they have responded well to the areas of improvement identified in the last report.
  • He highlighted some further system improvements that are needed. IT infrastructure changes take time but have been purchased and will be implemented in April.
  • In addition, HMI do not take into account the financial context, but he believes given its funding challenges and its history in the county council, the Service is in a good place.
  • There was a discussion about the modernisation process and how important it is to ensure that the HMI Inspectors leave with the Service having given a good account of themselves.
  • GM Cutler confirmed that there has been a huge amount of pre inspection activity which is covered in the report.
  • He confirmed that this includes focus groups in stations to ensure colleagues are reminded of how far the Service has come. (Improvements to the fire estate, infrastructure, and new appliances)
  • There was a discussion about professional standards, and how the service was approaching the independent investigation of any serious misconduct allegations in the future.
  • It was noted that Northants is making considerable progress with a new external supplier to address any serious misconduct breaches.
  • In the last inspection, four Causes of Concern were identified.
  • 35 actions were identified to address these, two of which remain outstanding.
  • One will be closed when a new HR system goes live in April.
  • GM Cutler confirmed these are continually under review and that there is still some work to complete. Capacity and funding issues have been an issue.
  • The Commissioner challenged this by asking for an example where funding has been an issue.
  • GM Cutler cited resourcing issues with DDaT and additional payments given to firefighters in Manchester and London for MTAs.
  • These were strongly refuted by the Commissioner.
  • HMI and previous Chief Fire Officers have confirmed that firefighters are already remunerated should there be an MTA. It is covered in the firefighters role map and additional payments are not required.
  • All major IT systems have been or are in the process of being upgraded and new systems such as Fire Control, Duty Management, Unit 4 and the MDT dynamic cover tool are being implemented.
  • Prior to having DDaT support, the Service had limited resources to provide IT support or manage and implement any system changes.
  • But most significantly, the Service budget has increased by 39% since the governance transfer from the County Council to the OPFCC.
  • The A/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the statement was more about if the Service had unlimited money, it would pay consultants to acquire and implement an IT solution, accepting that DDaT have limited resources which support all three organisations, not just Fire.
  • A/ACFO Pells added that it was important for HMI to recognise that it is a small team that are trying to rebuild a fire service who are starting to see the benefit of enabling services.
  • The Commissioner reiterated that the Service has reserves and if there are any strategic challenges, that is what the reserves are there for.
  • He is more than happy to have that conversation should anything outside of the agreed funding envelope be required.
  • The A/Chief Fire Officer advised that he had had this conversation about dynamic cover tool which can’t be delivered until April. Could use transformation fund for this however, if it is a capacity issue, by the time recruited and vetted throwing money at the issue won’t solve the problem.
  • There was a discussion about the Effectiveness Pillar.
  • The A/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the CRMP has not yet been updated. This isn’t due to be published until 2025 so the Service cannot yet discharge the action relating to wider consultation in the HMI report.
  • The Service can however share the strategic document to show how it will do it.
  • A/ACFO Pells confirmed that the CRMP will be fully aligned to Fire Standards.
  • Returning to the A/Chief Fire Officers comments in the report under 4.15 the Commissioner commended him for acknowledging the significance of the inspection and the assurance he could provide which was grounded in planning and a proactive approach to addressing areas of potential scrutiny.
  • The Commissioner again asked if there was anything that the Chief Fire Officer wanted to do, as part of the preparations, but could not due to teams, people or money.
  • A/ACFO Pells is leading the review, advised that he is using uniform staff to do briefings in stations but has to be mindful of capacity issues so that pumps are not taken off the run. The Service does not have operational capacity – so that is challenge. (Wasn’t about money have no one to back fill positions).
  • There was a discussion on pump availability based on findings from the CRMP.
  • It was noted that the Service is now in a position and able to question minimum pump availability using its data better.
  • The A/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the strategic direction is right, and he will review pump availability as part of the CRMP process.
  • There was a discussion about the new competency-based training framework. A Learning Management System is in procurement.
  • Really strong progress has been made regarding JESIP training and a paper will be presented at the March Accountability Board.
  • On 7.8 effective absence and attendance procedures, the Commissioner asked if the Service could now demonstrate that it had gripped this issue and processes for managing attendance are now effective.
  • GM Cutler confirmed there is still work to be done on this, but good progress had been made.
  • New managers and systems are in place but there is some outstanding training. However, he was assured that it is where it needs to be.
  • There was a discussion about the complexity of moving from Fire Watch to Unit 4.
  • ACO Bullen confirmed he is looking at options to mitigate any issues that might arise.
  • On 7.10. Assurance that middle managers are visible and demonstrate service values through their behaviours; The A/Chief Fire Officer commented that this is linked to 7.5. There are so few of them and they are work commitments are such they are not always as visible as they should be which in turn affects people’s ability to trust them.
  • This is a legacy from earlier decisions to cut staff before governance transfer to the PFCC days when funding cuts halved the middle management cadre.
  • As part of Serving with Pride, he is looking at ways to increase their numbers, free up some of their time, look at shift patterns and review working practices and system changes to allow middle managers to be in front of people and leading.
  • He confirmed that station visits are well received and whilst he cannot say all managers have exemplary behaviour all of the time, Managers understand that they need to live and breathe behaviours that are acceptable.
  • This is reinforced by every member of staff having the code of ethics in their PDR.
  • Overall, it was agreed that the Service has a strategic grip and a better sense of direction and objectives than it had in 2021.
  • The Service is in a better place in term of preparation and in being able to demonstrate what they have done since the last inspection.
  • Gap analysis in Fire standards is robust and challenged.
  • In closing, The A/Chief Fire Office confirmed it is really important to be able to answer the question. Don’t just work to the question. Look at what that means then look at other services and he is confident that this is what the Service are doing in its preparations.

Assurance statement:


The Commissioner received assurances from the Chief Fire Officer and his team that progress had been made in relation to the findings from the previous HMICFRS report relating to the people pillar and the Commissioner welcomed these assurances. The Commissioner, while welcoming this also questioned what progress had been made on the other operational areas.

 The Commissioner was assured that preparations for and understanding of the forthcoming inspection were better than he had seen previously and noted the Chief Fire Officer’s assurances that the service was, he believed well placed.

 The Commissioner noted that while the proof would be in the inspection itself, he was more assured that the Chief Fire Officer had better governance, there was strategic leadership across the service and a greater state of readiness and understanding of the requirements of the inspection.



Fire Control Room System replacement


Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue service is currently in the process of replacing its control room systems. Given the critical nature of these systems the Commissioner seeks a report which outlines the progress on this. The report should cover the details of the work being completed, any risks and issues experienced, timescales for completion and assurances to him about the effective delivery of this system replacement.


  • ACO Paul Bullen provided an update as to the current situation which is fast moving and a challenge.
  • The issues were clearly outlined in the paper provided.
  • Leanne Hanson and Lucy Westley joined the meeting.
  • It was noted that the paper contained details that were commercially sensitive.
  • There was an informed discussion in relation to the contents of the paper.


Action – PB to work through the options discussed and come back to the Commissioner and Chief Fire Officer with a final proposal for further consideration.



  • The A/Chief Fire Officer spoke about the apprenticeship levy.
  • The Service has been successful in bidding for some additional money, made available because of other Services not taking advantage of the levy.
  • As a result, will receive an additional £100k.
  • Credit to Leanne Hanson and the Commercial team for exploiting this opportunity.
  • £100k relief of pressure.