Fire Accountability Board Minutes 14 February 2023

  1. Welcome and introductions



Stephen Mold (SM)

Paul Fell (PF)

Helen King (HK)

Nicci Marzec (NM)

Louise Sheridan (LS)

CFO Mark Jones (MJ)

ACFO Shaun Hallam (SH)

ACFO Rob Porter (RP)

ACO Paul Bullen (PB)


  1. Minutes and decisions of previous meeting


SM welcomed everyone to the meeting.


  1. HMICFRS update


The Commissioner requests a report on the NFRS response to the 2021 HMICFRS inspection of the service.  The report should outline the progress made so far in relation to delivery of any improvements required relating to the Cause of Concern and all Areas for improvement identified through this inspection.

The report should also provide the Chief Fire Officer assessment on this progress and report any areas where he feels progress is not as expected, the reasons why and provide a timeline for all actions and activities.

People and culture

  • Assistant Chief Officer Paul Bullen provided an overview regarding the Cause of Concern actions.
  • PB has taken over as the Principal Officer lead for this from 1st January 2023
  • A revised People and Culture Board will be chaired by the Chief Fire Officer with a reviewed and reduced attendance list.
  • Governance for the organisation is currently under review by the Chief Fire Officer, will include oversight of this agenda and is expected to be completed within the next few weeks.
  • The work on the redrafted Culture and People Strategy is largely complete and is now awaiting a decision on whether to adopt that strategy.
  • However, given the Fire Standards Board standard on Leading and Developing People consideration is being given as to whether much of this is now superseded by the national standard (and core code of ethics).
  • Some time will now be spent on the overlap with core code of ethics nationally and what behaviours should fall out of that.
  • The business case for the EDI work has been signed off and a new person is in post to move this work forward at pace.
  • Station based staff have been recruited to support Positive Action on recruitment.
  • A training needs analysis from an external provider has been undertaken to inform what is required. The training contract is ready to be signed and training will be delivered through 2023.
  • There are some practices that can be adopted from those already being used with Northants Police; Just waiting for the licences to be granted from Oracle for the confidential reporting system Flag it.
  • In addition, a Safe to Say campaign has begun and will run throughout the year
  • It was acknowledged that some things are easier to report. A new system should be in by the end of year which will make it much easier.
  • Recognising that not everyone has access to a NFRS computer, paper forms are available at all stations to ensure on call staff can report poor behaviours.
  • There is a wider EDI plan looking at women in the organisation via the Women’s Forum. An example here is the Springboard programme designed for women. This is used in police and will soon be available to NFRS colleagues. – Just need to do the comms.
  • PB advised that overall, most things are going to plan and to support this work (incorporating the previous action plan), PB is revising the existing action plan, making links back to HMICFRS where necessary, to focus activity.
  • The latest version of the action plan was embedded in the report provided.
  • PB confirmed that progress has been made across all areas of the Cause of Concern action plan although there is still a lot of work to be done on the culture of the organisation, hence the renewed focus that the revised action plan on EDI and the wider People and Culture Strategy will now receive.
  • Added to this, a training needs analysis completed in August 2022 has informed what needs to be done regarding management and leadership training.
  • The Commissioner asked if from a governance point of view, the Chief Fire Officer feels that:
  • the action plan still reflects what work needs to be delivered
  • That there is sufficient focus in order to deliver the action plan and have positive reflections made in the next round of inspections (remove this as a Cause of Concern)
  • And that the action plan will change and embed the required cultures in the Service
  • The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that he is satisfied that his predecessor got us to where we are now. He was also confident that this plan would resolve the issues in the Cause of Concern.
  • NFRS has sufficient focus and has already engaged with the Home Office and the Fire College and have received good feedback.
  • Requirements from HMI are changing (moving piece).
  • He expressed some concern around service delivery which is impacted every time someone leaves, or a key person is not available suggesting that outsourcing may be a better model.
  • RP confirmed that attendance at EDI training is monitored. Generally, staff prefer face-to-face training as opposed to online sessions, and this is a more appropriate means of delivery for this and subject of training.
  • As the training is developed further there is a plan to develop a CPD programme to make sure that standards continue to improve.
  • It is expected that the new FLO will revisit the Service in the next few months to review progress.
  • The Commissioner stated that having the right culture was a key component of the Police, Fire and Crime plan and not just a measure to satisfy HMICFRS. A positive culture which good EDI is what the public will expect from the Service.
  • A poor culture will have an impact on recruitment. People will not want to work for or join the Service.
  • The Commissioner has been clear in his mandate to both Chiefs that he expects them to both deliver and lead an environment that is healthy.
  • RP commented that at a tactical level the Cause of Concern received by NFRS was not dissimilar to Warwickshire. The fact that we are not too far apart in what we are doing should provide reassurance that the Cause of Concern will be removed at the next inspection.
  • HK asked if the action plan is similar, is the timescale also comparable.
  • The Chief Fire Officer advised that Warwickshire are a County Council Service so have been able to use their services and processes to deliver change whereas NFRS have had to do it themselves but are working to a similar timeline.
  • The timeline to deliver EDI training within 1 year is well thought out.
  • SH added that positive change is taking place and this view was reinforced when visiting stations to consult on industrial action. The station environment feels totally different
  • It is clear that the EDI framework and action plan shows NFRS is committed and is having an impact.

Other Areas for Improvement

  • The Chief Fire Officer apologised for the quality of the paper submitted.
  • In future all papers will come to senior management team for review to ensure updates are of the highest quality.
  • PF advised that in fairness, having spoken to the author, the service had misread the notification and thought it was only about the cause of concern.
  • PF and RP have discussed progress and the paper does not reflect the work that NFRS have done. In fact, they appear to have made more progress than is referred to in the paper but this might need sense checking outside the meeting. The spreadsheet embedded was a summary of activity rather than the one with the actions on. PF and RP will review the correct spreadsheet separately.

The Commissioner asked if NFRS have a mechanism in place that allows for the consideration and acceptance of AFIs, identifies what actions are needed to resolve them and which then governs and oversees the process to ensure they are adequately discharged.

The Chief Fire Officer advised that senior officers are cobbling things together from spreadsheets and there is an urgent need for some sort of business flow system.

  • The HMI Improvement plan and EDI plan are in different places. This needs to be one plan.
  • This is an issue resulting from the leanness of the organisation as it is the same senior officers doing everything and the Service is spending more money in senior officer time than it would if it invested in a proprietary system.
  • The Commissioner asked PB for an update on Office 365.
  • PB Confirmed this has been rolled out across the Force with updated functionality.
  • He agreed to speak to the Chief Digital Officer, Clare Chambers for an update.

Action – PB will speak to Clare Chambers for an update on Office 365 for Fire

  • RP stated that he wanted to give the Commissioner reassurance that all actions were captured.
  • Every action has a timescale, and these are well documented.
  • There was a discussion about updated guidance expected at the end of this year for a Marauding Terrorist Attack.
  • The Commissioner asked when the last MTA exercised was undertaken.
  • RP advised that they are done regularly but would check.

Action – RP to confirm when the last MTA exercised took place.

  • PB advised that MTA’s were one of the issues for the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) which ACC Tuckley now Chairs.
  • Whilst the likelihood is low of this taking place in Northamptonshire the Commissioner was keen to ensure that the appropriate guidance is in place.
  • RP confirmed MTA exercises are conducted in stations every single month and can demonstrate to HMICFRS that whilst we are waiting for national guidance, NFRS have been training locally to ensure firefighters know what is expected of them.
  • It was agreed that NFRS are doing better than the report indicated but it was accepted that this was a poor way to provide assurance.
  • HMICFRS are expected in Service again near to the beginning of 2024 so reassurance work should be completed by October 2023.
  • HMICFRS will start paper dive and request information around this time so it will be important to work to this timeline so that the Service is fully prepared.

Action – PF to work with RP to seek further assurance on the AFI Action plan

  • In terms of assurances the CFO was confident that with the work being undertaken the good grading for Efficiency ought to be retained, there was work to be done in relation to effectiveness and delivery of the CoC was key for progress on the People and culture aspect

Assurance Statement:

The Commissioner received two papers in relation to this agenda item, the first covering just the matters within the people and culture Cause of Concern and the second with details of other areas for improvement commented upon in the 2021 inspection.

In relation to the Cause of Concern the Commissioner was assured that there was a plan in place to rectify the issues that had been identified but stressed that work needed to continue at pace, not because HMICFRS had identified an issue but because this was the right thing to do, to deliver a fair and inclusive workplace for staff.

The Chief Fire Officer advised that he felt the work underway was well placed to address these concerns.

The Commissioner was less assured on the additional AFIs, as the paper articulating progress on these was not of a high standard. He asked a member of his team to seeks additional assurances outside of this meeting.


  1. AOB

Visit to Cornwall

  • The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that he had recently visited Cornwall to review the Tri-Service model. He will be preparing a short report.
  • Visit was positive, overriding message that he bought back was start small, recruit to a very high standard and then grow.

Revised Pay offer

  • All discussed the revised pay offer made to the firefighters and the timescales set by the FBU for the response.
  • The Chief Fire Officer advised that another Fire Authority have highlighted that due to month end payroll cut off dates, even if members accept the offer, the response timescale set by the FBU (8/3/23) could mean that pay increases and backdated pay would happen nationally in 2023/24.
  • One FRA have highlighted that this could potentially mean that two pay awards would be deemed to happen in one year in terms of the HMRC pension annual allowance calculation. Whilst this would potentially place some employees above the annual allowance for 2023/24, HMRC rules do enable employees to consider their annual pension allowance over a three-year period.
  • HK advised that as NCFRA have a contracted in payroll service from West Northants, the monthly cut off dates for payroll would be earlier than other in house FRAs and the Chief Fire Officer highlighted that further issues will arise if different authorities pay the pay awards in different financial years.
  • HK advised that the cost of the increased offer will also have an impact on the MTFP.
  • Whilst it is expected that additional money from one off business rate surplus for 2023/24 will ease some of the pressure in the short term, there is no extra money assumed in the base budget at this stage.
  • The Commissioner confirmed he is raising this issue with the Home Office as whilst grateful for the support it has previously given to help build Reserves, the additional pressure from the increased pay award will deplete the Reserves they have helped us to build.
  • A modest adjustment to funding in the base budget would make a massive difference
  • HK advised that on business rates and council tax surplus, she will continue to discuss with local authorities, and she is hopeful that some small increases may be added to the base budget.
  • Longer term Business Rates revaluation will take place and this will have an impact on the base budget. The timescales and impact of this revaluation nationally are unknown, therefore, prudent financial planning will continue on the base position until the revaluations are completed.
  • Overtime has seen a significant reduction. The Chief Fire Officer stated that this demonstrates improving fiscal competence in this area.

There was a discussion about the Stock Conditions Report and the Report on Minimal Standards. Gap analysis. MJ asked whether a strategic conversation in regard to this could take place and HK wondered whether this could be a discussion at the Transformation Board where both chiefs, the S151 and Monitoring officer attend.