Fire Accountability Board Minutes 14 March 2023

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)

Lisa Bryan (LB)


Minutes and decisions of previous meeting

 SM welcomed everyone to the meeting.


Safeguarding update

The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner requires assurances relating to two aspects of safeguarding and Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.

In December 2022, NFRS received an internal audit report relating to safeguarding policy and procedure. While this audit provided an opinion of a satisfactory level of assurance for the adequacy of systems, it only provided for limited assurance in relation to compliance. This is a concern for the Commissioner, and he requires the report to include whether the Chief Fire Officer accepts the report recommendations, assurance that these recommendations have been progressed and completed or where this is not the case the reasons for this and completion timescales.

The Commissioner and NFRS are aware that work is being undertaken at a national level to include employees of Fire and Rescue Authorities in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (The Exceptions Order). Work on this continues to progress. The Commissioner requires an update as to what safeguarding checks (DBS or other) are currently in place for employees of NFRS and what action is being taken ahead of any legislative changes. He would also seek assurance that NFRS have used the NPCC self-assessment tool for safeguarding and what gaps have been identified from this, as well as activity to fill those gaps

  • Lisa Bryan, Prevention, Safeguarding and Partnerships Manager provided an update.
  • A range of new guidance and statutory requirements was launched in January 2022 under the Safeguarding Fire Standard.
  • Prior to the Standard being developed the Prevention Team presented a case to the Chief Fire Officer for a Safeguarding Management Group (SMG) to be established.
  • The SMG was established to oversee the increasing complexity of the safeguarding workload and to ensure the requirements of the legislation are embedded across different departments.
  • The SMG is chaired formally by the Chief Fire Officer and is attended by key departments such as Prevention, Community Risk Groups, HR and training and monitors a cross departmental action plan.
  • The SMG acts as a forum for the dissemination of good practice to ensure legislative compliance.
  • In June 2021, the Prevention, Safeguarding and Partnerships Manager undertook the NFCC Self-Assessment and recommended new actions to the SMG which were approved.
  • Recommendations included the Service working more closely with national and regional colleagues to improve quality and practice and to understand potential impending legislative changes.
  • This has been completed and embedded with NFRS representing at national, regional and practitioner level and contributing to national business cases and development of sector specific guidance
  • A further action was assigned to HR with regards to reviewing the Safer Recruitment and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) policy and guidance.
  • Whilst there are existing processes in place and evidence that DBS checks are being completed, there is no central oversight of them as they are managed by individual recruiting managers.
  • LB confirmed that plans are now in place to ensure that the management of DBS checks will be held within the HR function of Enabling Services creating an automatic record of who has one and when it needs to be reviewed, subject to future decisions on this.
  • This will be up and running by the end of June 2023.
  • The Oleo recruitment system is now live and provides assurance on new starters.
  • The DBS policy has been refreshed and is currently being reviewed.
  • Nationally, there is no requirement to DBS check firefighters but in Northants, all new firefighters have a standard DBS check.
  • An enhanced DBS check is required for members of the Prevention team.
  • Longer serving firefighters – more than 14 years will not have been DBS checked unless they have moved into a role that requires an enhanced DBS.
  • The Commissioner asked how many firefighters fell into that category.
  • ACFO Shaun Hallam advised that they don’t currently have that information, but Enabling Services will be able to provide it at the end of June.
  • There was a discussion about the DBS register. Whilst this is a useful central database it has no long-term value as a new DBS is required if a person moves to a new employer.
  • The Commissioner thought this was still a useful register and the Chief Fire Officer agreed.
  • The Chief Fire Officer also supports the decision to DBS all Firefighters.
  • There was a discussion on whether further assurance would be gained from an enhanced DBS check on all firefighters.
  • This is a decision for the Chief Fire Officer and employers but the PFCC sought the advice and opinion of the Chief Fire Officer on this.
  • There was a discussion about what processes will need to be considered for DBS checks on firefighters who joined before 2009 should any issues come to light.
  • There is a clause in employment contracts which places a requirement on firefighters to notify the employer if you receive a conviction, and this will need to be managed sensitively.
  • This is in light of the PND/PNC data wash that is currently underway for all police and OPFCC employees.
  • There was a discussion on the timeliness of DBS checks and the use of the process where a Chief Officer is required to authorise a starter ahead of any check being completed.
  • There had been some issues last year with DBS checks taking 9 – 10 weeks to come back.
  • It is understood that the backlog has now been cleared and this should no longer be an issue.
  • ACFO Shaun Hallam stated that where a DBS check has not come back, appointments will be delayed until the DBS check has been cleared.
  • There was a discussion about the HMICFRS findings compared to the internal audit report which had identified that the assurance given for compliance with Safeguarding Policies is LIMITED.
  • This is because testing had highlighted that there was some non-compliance with safer recruitment processes that form part of the key policies and procedures for safeguarding
  • LB advised that the questions asked by the inspectorate were very focused on external safeguarding and managing risk. These areas are showing good practice and adherence to policy whereas the internal audit was focussed more on internal practices and had identified a gap.
  • Essentially, the internal audit identified really good policies that were not always being adhered to.
  • It was noted that both the internal audit and the self-assessment had identified the same issues which was reassuring.
  • HK confirmed that is the reason for internal audits. An organisation doesn’t learn anything if you only target the areas where they know they are doing well. You want to focus the spotlight on where you think your weaknesses are to find out any gaps.
  • In June the Service will have a central repository for all information and will know who has a DBS and who doesn’t.
  • Once complete, there will be a case-by-case assessment on what find along with a matrix to review any issues criteria for taking any further action or not taking further action.

Action – The Chief Officer team to agree a plan/matrix for how to assess and manage the DBS checks that will need to be undertaken by the end of June along with a timescale for how they will apply for them.

  • There was a discussion about the business case for legislative change.
  • There is an application for an amendment of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002
  • This business case was presented by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) to the Home Office (HO) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
  • NFRS took part in a Home Office focus group and has assisted in providing information to support the business case.
  • The request for the amendment has now commenced the parliamentary process for the first reading in April 2023 to allow Standard DBS checks to be conducted for all Fire and Rescue Authority employees.
  • If passed, it will mean that where DBS checks are done of firefighters and staff they will need to declare all previous convictions and cautions for example but it will not make such a check mandatory.
  • As previously discussed NFRS has already adopted a policy of DBS checking firefighters given their position of trust so it will be important to have a plan to DBS check those employed before 2009 as soon as practicable.
  • There was a discussion about a potential amnesty period for disclosure of any offences that may come to light.

Action – The Chief Fire Officer to consider how he would like to manage this with his chief officer team, given he will know how many checks need to be carried out at the end of June. This will also need to consider DBS renewals and a plan for how to re-check them every 4 – 5 years so that they are not all due for renewal at the same time.


  • There was a discussion about being cognisant of risk in taking a position on checking those firefighters who joined the Service prior to DBS checks being required before the legislation is implemented.
  • It was agreed that there are strong grounds to do this, and it is morally and ethically right that the people of Northamptonshire are assured.
  • It was agreed that the Commissioner would discuss this position with his fellow PFCC’s.

Action – SM to discuss the legislative change with his fellow Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners.


In conclusion, the Commissioner thanked Lisa for a good report. He was conscious that a lot of time had been spent discussing DBS checks, but this was an important area of safeguarding, and it was right to spend the time to focus on this.


Assurance Statement:

 The Commissioner welcomed the paper that had been produced. He was pleased that the results of the internal self-assessment undertaken using the NFCC toolkit, identified and mirrored the findings of the internal safeguarding audit.

 The Commissioner was assured that following the self-assessment there were no areas of the national Fire Standard on safeguarding that the service was not compliant with.

The Commissioner was pleased that NFRS and Chief Fire Officer has used the internal audit and self-assessment processes to drive forward improvements in the way that services were provided.

 He echoed observations made by the Chief Fire Officer relating to the positive work being undertaken in communities to safeguard vulnerable people

 The paper informed a discussion relating to the checking of firefighters and staff through the DBS system and the frequency with which this ought to be done. The Chief Fire Officer stated that this was currently a source of conversation and discussion in his senior team, and it was his intention to bring forward a further paper in relation to this to the Commissioner.

The Commissioner was assured by the fact that all firefighters who have joined the Service in the last 14 years have been DBS checked, and those in specialist posts were subject to enhanced DBS checks. He confirmed his position that he would want to ensure all personnel regardless on when employment commenced would be DBS checked and also these would be subject to regular review. He looked forward to seeing an early paper and proposal from the Chief Fire Officer on this subject.



  • The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the continued effectiveness of fiscal controls required to bring the budget back in line with the funding envelope has and is making a positive difference.
  • As a result, there will not be the need to request a draw down as much from reserves.
  • The Service has adjusted greatly and created a fiscal control that will carry on throughout the year.
  • HK advised that excluding the pay award it is broadly going to be balanced.
  • The CFO commented that the revised pay award will have an impact of circa £0.75m in 22/23 and more in a full year.
  • HK advised the business rates windfalls in both years will cover this but building the pressures into the base post 23/24 will be more challenging as the windfalls are mainly one off.
  • The Chief Fire Officer remains frustrated by the paralysis on capital spend particularly on estates which are in urgent need of some investment.
  • The Commissioner noted the Chief Fire Officers comments and provided assurance that post governance transfer, that all fire funding is retained and held on behalf of or reinvested back into fire .
  • The Fire estate will be discussed at the next Estates Board on 4th April where the findings of a commissioned review of the whole estate will be presented.
  • HK added that whilst the PFCC and his officers share the Chief Fire Officers frustrations, they have commented each year to both chiefs about the slippage on their capital programmes for both Fire and Police. This means that revenue funding is tied up to service capital financing costs which is often not required and could have been used elsewhere. Whilst practice has been such underspends are used as RCCO, Fire do have a reasonable level of capital funding grants and reserves to service their capital programme and require minimal borrowing.
  • HK added that the Fire capital programme includes lots of investment into the overall wellbeing programme – that programme has been signed off by the OPFCC and included improvements to infrastructure.
  • The Commissioner reflected on his recent visit to Corby and an opportunity to provide more reassurance in terms of the Fire Service budget and a 3 year balanced MTP.
  • The Chief Fire Officer commended the work of the safeguarding team and asked the Commissioner to write to the team to recognise their work and the increased number of referrals they are receiving from other agencies as a result.

Action – SM to formally thank the Safeguarding team for their work.


  • No further business was raised.