Welcome and introductions
Stephen Mold (SM)
Helen King (HK)
Louise Sheridan (LS)
T/CFO Simon Tuhill (ST)
ACFO Rob Porter (PR)
Ro Cutler (RC)
Stuart McCartney (SMc)
Andrew Esson – Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service
Minutes and decisions of previous meeting
- SM welcomed everyone to the meeting.
- Minutes of the previous meeting were circulated with the meeting papers.
Internal Audit Report
The Commissioner requires a report that relates to all internal audits completed in the financial year 2022/2023.
The paper should provide an overview of these, with findings and recommendations.
It should identify whether the Chief Fire Officer accepts such recommendations, demonstrate activity that has taken place to address recommendations, when completed and where not yet completed the anticipated timescales for doing so.
- RC provided an overview of the report which was taken as read.
- In 2021/22 there were 12 audits reported on.
- Since the last briefing to the Accountability Board a further three have been completed making a total of 15 audits.
- All the recommendations in the audits completed to date have been agreed and accepted.
- There are two outstanding 2022/23 reports on DDaT Infrastructure Security and DDaT Privileged Access Control.
- Both reports are expected by the end of September.
- There was a discussion about the Target Operating Model (‘Golden Thread’ and verification of Data Quality).
- The Commissioner asked for an update on the timescales for completing the outstanding actions on this priority as two extensions had already been requested by the Area Manager who has since left the Service.
- It was thought that the recommendation was almost complete on the introduction of PowerBI.
- If required, the Commissioner offered to make money available to speed up the pilot given the number of delays experienced.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the delays are because they have held themselves to a standard making sure that the correct underlying data is available and accessible. Power BI is the wrapper.
- DP asked if there is a piece of work underway to make sure people understand how to use it.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the aspiration is that anyone at any location can look at information in live time. Currently performance data is held on Fireplace as Excel spreedsheets that are not live updated.
- Station managers are also being encouraged to share best practice between watches.
- There was a discussion around Safeguarding policy and procedures audits where there is limited compliance and a number of key actions have slipped.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer advised that the DBS Safeguarding policy is currently out for consultation. This will be approved in late October and by January 2024 the DBS checks will have taken place.
- The Commissioner asked what process is being followed to complete historical DBS checks.
- RP agreed to find out and update the Commissioner.
Action – RP to provide the Commissioner with an update on the process for completing historical DBS checks.
- There was a discussion on the associated Risk matrix to ensure all those requiring a historical DBS check are treating consistently so that any issues that may arise are dealt with fairly.
- DP stated that he will require a timeline that reflect the actions for this.
- This information has now been shared
- On other audit recommendations that require action, RO updated that on the Core Code of Ethics, work is continuing in relation to EDI objectives. This audit recommendation has not yet been closed as the work hasn’t been fully completed.
- Similarly, payroll is also being progressed.
- On mileage claims, work is being done and is currently being double checked. The action will eventually be negated when the new payroll system comes into effect as claims will be done automatically.
- The Commissioner confirmed that he was particularly concerned about the safeguarding audit as it only demonstrated LIMITED assurances in relation to compliance levels despite the adequacy of systems being graded as satisfactory.
- From Appendix 2 in the paper provided, there is no real explanation as to why there is slippage in key actions arising from the recommendations; and some actions have slipped from an anticipated implementation date of June 2023 till January 2024.
- The Commissioner could see no clear explanation for this.
- The same applies to some of the recommendations relating to the audit on contract management, which had the same levels of assurance in the audit as the safeguarding one.
- The Commissioner stated that he was particularly concerned about Safeguarding and the Adequacy of systems audit findings.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer asked who selects the audit themes.
- HK confirmed that meetings are held regularly with the auditors and the decisions around emerging themes are taking collectively by those charged with governance and the service. The plan is approved by the PFCC and considered by the JIAC before ethe start of the financial year.
- HK advised the approach is to try and point audits to areas where we don’t have assurance or where there are gaps so they can be improved; there is little point looking at things we know we are comfortable with.
- Safeguarding has been on the risk register for some time because we were not confident on controls.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer wanted some time to assure himself that staff are DBS checked and if stepping outside of that, the Service have suitable processes in place, which is now the case
- The Commissioner advised that if the T/Chief Fire Officer is worried about it, he is happy to help as the OPFCC has lots of expertise in this area.
- Whilst compliance is limited when the audit was done, the T/Chief Fire Officer advised that a significant amount of work has taken place and a new policy would be going live and that this area will soon see transformation once the new DBS policy is published.
- RP suggested it might be worth getting Audit Team in to look at it again once the new systems were in place.
- HK confirmed that she could arrange a follow up on the internal audit if NFRS would like to do that.
- Officers confimre that this would be useful later in 2024 to offer assurance around the new processes.
- HK then described the journey that NFRS have been on with audits and as a result there have been some really good improvements.
- Compliance has improved but from her observation this has now stalled somewhat.
- HK confirmed that at the most recent JIAC meeting, members picked up that too many areas where report completion dates are slipping.
- Need to be more sensible on setting expectations as missing previously agreed timescales should be an exception and not common practice.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that there is lots of work going on, but perhaps more work needs to be done on the wrapper that sits around them. and hold owners to account on delivery.
- On slippage, DP asked who agreed to move on the delivery dates and what was the challenge on that before agreeing to move the date.
- It was confirmed that this used to be manged at Service Assurance Board. This board was discontinued under previous CFOs tenure. T/CFO is working to establish some governance to ensure that appropriate oversite is provided on any request to move target dates.
- There was a discussion about some difficulties relating to digital sharing and collaboration between NFRS and enabling services.
- The Commissioner agreed that this needs to be resolved as a priority. The Commissioner agreed to speak to the Police Digital Service (PDS) to see if they could offer a faster solution to system access and sharing issues, recognising that it is difficult to collaborate if the systems don’t talk to each other.
Action – SM to speak to PDS about Fire and Police system sharing issues (Diary and Teams etc)
- There was a discussion about the format of the audit outputs and recommendations.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer asked if these were formatted for JIAC.HK advised that whilst some of the format was as per the internal auditors reports themselves, the report format was Fire’s to change as they wish., it was currently in a consistent format for JIAC as with policing but it is Fires format to change to meet their requirements.
- He advised that he will consider changing future reporting to reflect to fire standard template.
The Commissioner welcomed the report and set out his expectations that NFRS sets high standards that underpin the delivery of an efficient service. The Commissioner also emphasised the need for the service to have a suite of options when encountering any issues or challenges that may arise. Although the commissioner was assured that progress and improvements are being made, he raised his concerns in relation to safeguarding and compliance and requested further updates on these to ensure he was fully assured that the service was managing these issues effectively. He also reminded colleagues that Enabling Services was not a separate organisation and it was essential that effective data sharing procedures were in place to support the delivery of front line services.
Fire Standards Update
The Commissioner requests a report that provides an overview of the implementation of published Fire Standards from the Fire Standards Board to this point.
The report should list all currently published standards, whether the Chief Fire Officer has agreed to these or where not the rationale for not doing so or implementing them. It should also indicate where elements of standards have not been able to be implemented and articulate the reasons for this.
- The Commissioner advised that assurances were given that the processes in place to govern the implementation of standards was effective.
- However, PF and the T/Chief Fire Officer have discussed this and do not support this view.
- As a result, the T/Chief Fire Officer has drafted a process map (Appendix 2 in the report) which sets out a new implementation plan.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that lots of work is underway, and his team are working very hard on the Fire standards which are multi-disciplinary and are being progressed holistically.
- Part of the review will be to look at internal actions, to make sure the Service are setting the right actions at the right level.
- From the report, the Commissioner could see that progress against a number of actions had been made and recognised that there was no central resource within NFRS to manage the huge number of actions resulting from the 16 standards released thus far.
Code of Ethics
- There was a discussion about the Code of Ethics.
- Given the importance of this to the Service both nationally and locally, the Commissioner asked if there are any timescales for this review and subsequent implementation.
- RO confirmed that the gap analysis is complete however following on from the Serving with Pride work stream, the HMICFRS Values and Behaviours report and the IPSOS survey this is being looked at again.
- This work is expected to be completed by the end of November.
Communication and Engagement
- There was a discussion on Communication and Engagement.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that he has a paper from the Head of Communications. Whilst this was still to be reviewed, it looks like a realy good plan.
Community Risk Management
- There was a discussion about Community Risk Management planning.
- The Commissioner questioned why only 9 out of the 90 actions identified had been reported as complete.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer considered the Service had been overly critical setting 90 actions as part of the gap analysis.
- This was currently being reviewed alongside a formal policy which could resolve many of the actions identified.
- There was a discussion on Data Management.
- The Service is partially compliant in this area and the Commissioner asked what more can be done to improve data awareness and literacy.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer advised that it was important to capture right data in first place. Once that is in place, staff development and training can be rolled out.
Emergency Preparedness and Resilience
- The Service is partially compliant in this fire standard.
- From the gap analysis in June 2022, 50 actions were identified 49 of these have now been completed.
- The outstanding action relates to a review of Local Resilience Forum (LRF) plans with partner agencies.
- The Commissioner asked if there was a timescale for this action.
- RP advised that he would ask for an update on this and data sharing.
- Gap analysis on this fire standard is currently underway.
- The Commissioner asked what the timescale was for the completion of the analysis.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed that it was April/May 2024 and highlighted that there may be some budget implications as a result.
Leading the Service
- The Service is partially complaint in this fire standard and is currently completing gap analysis for this.
- The Commissioner asked for the timescales on this work.
- RO advised that they have changed the format, but initial work has been done and that it links to the code of ethics.
Leading and Developing People
- Gap analysis on this standard was initiated in January 2023 and identified 45 actions, of which 29 have been completed.
- The Commissioner asked who was leading the work on this.
- RO confirmed that T/ACO Phil Pells is leading the working group, but the T/Chief Fire Officer is the Principal Officer.
- The Service is partially compliant in this fire standard.
- 44 of the 46 actions identified in the gap analysis have been completed.
- The 2 outstanding actions relate to the Fire Control implementation of the National Operational Guidance (NOG) which has only just been published.
- small team SM why not all complete.
- The Commissioner asked the T/Chief Fire Officer if he was comfortable with the progress on the outstanding actions, particularly the risk-based inspection review observations.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer advised that he will complete his assessment and report back to the Commissioner.
Action – ST to review the risk-based inspection review observations relating to Protection and report back to the Commissioner.
- The Commissioner asked the T/Chief Fire Officer is there were any Standards that the Chief Officer team had decided not to implement.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed there were none.
- The Commissioner asked the T/Chief Fire Officer is there were any criteria within the Standards where the Chief Officer Team have decided not to implement.
- The T/Chief Fire Officer confirmed there were none but added clarification that the Service will not comply with some NOG where it is not applicable.
- Where there is best practise the T/Chief Fire Officer would want to be compliant.
The Commissioner noted the challenge in meeting over 600 actions in relation to fire standards and reiterated his stance that the service needs to ensure that meeting the standards is a key aspect of the day to day work so that it helps to underpin the delivery of an efficient and effective fire and rescue service.
The Commissioner was assured that progress was being made but suggested that any timescales associated with his work were realistic and achievable.
Medium Term Financial Plan
The Commissioner requires a paper that provides an overview of the revised medium term financial plan for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue, taking into account the budget out turn position and any other available information since the 2023/2024 budget setting process.
- HK thanked Vaughan Ashcroft and Nick Alexander for their work in preparing the report and HK presented it
- The MTFP is refreshed every year mid year (this update) and as part of the budget setting process.
- All assumptions made as part of this process have been reviewed and compared against both regional and national benchmarking or associated evidence and trends.
- The MTFP changes every day because the S151 officers are looking to the future to identify challenges and opportunities so keep updating it and modelling it.
- HK highlighted some key changes from the report presented at the beginning of the year.
- The key change is the pay awards and the financial pressures arisingfrom them.
- The budget/MTFP allowed for a 2% pay award plus a 1% contingency.
- Firefighters received 7% backdated to July 2022 and 5% from July 2023.
- The MTFP has now been updated to reflect those pressures.
- Prudent forecasts were used for the collection of business rates.
- Collection rates have been substantially higher than anticipated creating a windfall this year and the MTFP has also been slightly updated
- NFRS receives 1% share of the BR windfall.
- In order to test various assumptions HK advised a number of different scenarios have been modelled.
- The best-case scenario is based on the Commissioner being given precept flexibility for a £5 increase. The worst-case scenario would be a standard 2.99% increase as set out within the 2022 settlement.
- It is currently uncertain as to whether the Government will give the Commissioner any latitude for NFRS which is in the bottom quartile for funding. HK highlighted to the PFCC the additional funding that £5 would bring and how it would reduce the MTFP shortfall. The PFCC advised he would consider this in his discussions with the Home Office and Ministers.
- On potential investments HK confirmed the Estates Masterplan remains part of the strategic planning process and have not yet been approved.
- This includes substantial investment in buildings, electric vehicles and other decarbonisation programmes that will be required and built into capital and revenue planning in the near future.
- Updates and amendments as a result of the Emergency Cover Review (ECR) will also need to be considered.
- This includes financial implications arising from decisions in areas such as premises, Digital, fleet as well as workforce and equipment.
- There was a discussion on asset locations including the Chelveston training site and future requirements and the potential for a new Fire and road traffic response close to J16.
- The revised MTFP before the achievement of savings and efficiencies was summarised in the report.
- Every year looking at efficiencies most of which will come from zero base or the transformation fund.
- HK reminded the attendees that NFRS transferred to the governance of the OPFCC in 2019 with zero Reserves.
- Since the transfer a nice level of Reserves has been created and whilst not excessive, having them does allow the Service to progress the things it needs to.
- The Service has set aside £1m transformation reserves which post the ECR can be used at the PFCCs discretion to pump prime investments that will move the Service forwards.
- Fluctuations on business rates are used to smooth the annual budget and reserves and this is where a plan is needed form the T/Chief Fire Officer.
- There was a discussion about first quarters financial monitoring. HK confirmed this is within acceptable boundaries but there is still some concern about overtime and bank costs.
- Due to the additional money received from increased business rate the Service can cover this cost this year, but it is important to flag that this is not sustainable and will be picked up again for the 24/25 budget.
- The key points here are the potential for very real financial deficits in future years – which are consistent with the MTFP prepared in February 2023 but will also depend on some capital decisions such as fleet and estates and the Service needs to ensure that the required savings are delivered and properly embedded in a sustainable way.
The Commissioner welcomed the report and acknowledged the ongoing financial challenges facing the public sector. He was assured that the MTFP was robust and provided a realistic set of potential outcomes based on informed professional opinion. He was also assured that the MTFP was within previously assumed budgetary boundaries and that potential pressures were identified and the need for savings as appropriate as it was important the service was prepared to meet future challenges.
No further business was raised.