Welcome and introductions
Stephen Mold (SM)
Paul Fell (PF)
Helen King (HK)
Louise Sheridan (LS)
T/CFO Simon Tuhill (ST)
T/ACFO Phil Pells (PP)
ACO Paul Bullen (PB)
Nick Alexander (NA)
Ro Cutler (RC)
Minutes and decisions of previous meeting
- SM welcomed everyone to the meeting.
- Minutes of the previous meeting were circulated with the meeting papers.
Health and Safety report
The NFRS health and safety policy requires an annual presentation on Health and Safety performance to the PFCC.
The PFCC requires a report to the accountability board of the health and safety performance over the period 1st April 2022 to 31st March 2023, that meets the needs of that policy.
The report should identify trends in health and safety reports, highlight good practice and highlight areas of risk or improvement.
- The Chief Fire Officer provided an overview with the caveat that the report presented was written in May and before he joined the Service.
- Whilst the report contained some data and safety incident information the Chief Fire Officer was keen to explore if the report provided the level of detail the Commissioner expected.
- The Chief Fire Officer highlighted the spike in reportable incidents last year. This was attributed to the spate weather conditions and the physiological stress of working in the hot weather.
- There was a discussion about the number of days sickness absence taken whether this was as a result of accidents at work.
- The Chief Fire Officer noted that overall sickness appeared to be creeping back up to pre Covid levels and was something he would be keeping an eye on.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that he had not yet had an opportunity to review the internal audit of the contracts managed by the Health and Safety Team but had been assured that all contracts were listed as being low risk.
- There was a discussion about the occupational health contract and a number of issues around service delivery.
- An out-of-date risk assessment for Legionella was also discussed.
- The Commissioner requested further information on both of the issues raised as the report did not provide any mitigating actions or timescales to be rectified.
Action – PB to provide an update on Legionella assessments and OH contract issues.
- The Commissioner asked if the manual handling injuries were related to firefighters or fire staff.
- PP advised that he now chairs the Health and Safety Committee and the Ops Assurance Board. He will receive a quarterly report to look at incidents and mitigation.
- From the data he will do a deep dive to look to see if there are any patterns.
- He confirmed that the Service has just rolled out manual handling training to all staff and this is already showing a positive difference.
- The Chief Fire Officer gave an example of how the service responds to such injury reports. The example provided was review of how machinery and equipment is stowed on appliances if there are injury patterns reported from lifting such items.
- PF commented that he would expect to see some manual handling incidents but was assured that it was a small number.
- PP confirmed that manual handling injuries mostly relate to firefighters, and some will be difficult to mitigate for example when using pro-moves and when dealing with bariatric patients particularly when navigating stairs and tight spaces.
- If doing home safety visits there is an opportunity to make note of a bariatric person so that the Service can have a plan, should they be needed in the future.
- The Commissioner asked for further information about an incident involving a damaged face mask and asked if the issue was down to the quality of equipment or the stowage.
- PP confirmed this would be a reportable action and in this particular case was down to stowage.
- Returning to the spike in injuries due to last years spate weather conditions, the Commissioner asked if there was any learning from this, particularly if they were related to heat exhaustion.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that they are currently reviewing other types of protective clothing without thermal properties.
- PP highlighted the activity underway as part of the CRMP on climate change.
- There is a 2-year action plan on wildfires which also covers over heating and hydration. He agreed to share this action plan with the Commissioner.
- PP has also sent an officer on a wildfire course which covers multiple areas of learning including the use of fewer appliances and not driving across fields.
- HK commented that this would be a useful report to see and asked that he share any other significant reports such as water boat response adding that it would be helpful to be sighted as soon as possible especially if looking for resource.
Action – PP to share the wildfire and any other significant reports with the Commissioner.
- The Commissioner reiterated that he was seeking assurance on the number of days sickness absence taken as a result of accidents during the last 4 years (Table 5 in the report)
- PP confirmed he had the data which correlates to the hot weather last summer.
- The Commissioner confirmed that sight of the data which explains the incidents would be helpful.
Action – PP to provide the sickness data for table 5 in the report to confirm that the Service was doing a better job looking after its people.
- The Commissioner asked how soon after September could he expect to see a report on the OH contract.
- PB confirmed he needed to check the brake clause and clear the backlogs from the current service provider. Whilst they will be encouraged to provide a better service, in terms of the contract it won’t be possible to bring this in house for at least 6 months.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed this was a concern and need to be managed robustly.
- PB confirmed the contract is already taking a considerable amount of time to manage.
- The Commissioner requested to be kept updated.
- There was a discussion about contaminants
- The Chief Fire Officer advised of the need for a robust decontamination process so that firefighters can disrobe without contaminating the locker room. Some stations are not able to offer this facility.
- The Commissioner asked if it was possible for firefighters to disrobe at a station which had these facilities so that spending on facilities versus the number of fires attended was proportionate.
- PP confirmed that he is re-establishing the Contaminants Group to look at this at the Chelveston site and looking at usage in the longer term.
- HK reminded PP that the Service only has a 5-year agreement to stay on this site.
- The Commissioner advised that he would like to have something built into the new site plan, or something that was movable.
- Overall, the Commissioner felt that the report demonstrated that the Service had made progress but asked the Chief Fire Officer to look at this area again so that he could provide the assurance the Commissioner was seeking.
- Whilst this is usually an annual update, the Commissioner requested a review at the Accountability Board in 6 months’ time to give the Chief Fire Officer the opportunity to get up to speed.
The Chief Fire Officer, in delivering this report stated to the Commissioner that future iterations of this would have a deeper dive and analysis into the “what is” that were raised as a result of it’s content.
The Commissioner was pleased and assured about how the NFRS Health and Safety Board were looking into the causal factors relating to Health and Safety incidents, and that the report showed no overall concerning issues and a downward trend in incidents especially more serious ones where there was a requirement to notify HSE.
The Commissioner raised some questions from the report about references to decontamination procedures for Firefighters and asbestos procedures. The Chief Fire Officer and his team explained that decontamination procedures were being looked at and in an old estate it was not possible to implement perfect solutions that could be built into newer premises but workarounds that were safe were explored and also that the comments about asbestos procedures had been resolved with some training and the appointment of a new contractor. Both of these facts provided some additional assurances.
The Commissioner asked the Chief Fire Officer if he was satisfied with Health and Safety arrangements in place in Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and that they were sufficient. He stated that being in post only for a small number of weeks he was not able to answer that but would be providing assurances over the coming weeks. The Commissioner was generally assured with the contents of the report and asked that this matter be brought back in 6 months for the CFO to provide the requested assurances about sufficiency of Health and Safety processes.
Budget Outturn report 2022/2023
The Commissioner requires a paper that demonstrates the budget out turn position for the year 2022/2023, relating to NFRS.
- Nick Alexander provided an overview.
- The Provisional Outturn report was taken as read.
- As at the end of March 2023, there was an overspend of £843k on the budget directly managed by the Chief Fire Officer.
- This overspend was met in full by the Commissioners contingency and additional funding from one off business rates and associated S31 grants.
- The overspend was predominantly due to overtime as a result of uncosted changes made by the Service to the operational deployment during the year and some differences in the budget setting process to do with grades and ranks, which had now been resolved.
- This was a significant concern, amounting to £1.46m overspend in Wholetime, with around £0.7m of this relating to the 7% pay offer to firefighters.
- NA provided reassurance that the previous Chief Fire Officer had recognised the unbudgeted impact of the operational changes made during the year and had implemented additional controls and rigour granting operational overtime so it is not anticipated these anomalies will happen again this year.
- There have been some savings within enabling services for positions that have not yet been filled.
- There is also a property underspend of £0.2m as a result of income from leasing of properties and underspends on maintenance budgets.
- An underspend on capital finance resulted in the reduction in borrowing on the capital programme.
- The Capital programme is currently underway with a focus on achievability rather than ambition.
- The Commissioner advised that he had a series of questions.
- On Hydrant testing he has consistently heard that this is a problem and asked if there was an opportunity to work with Community Payback to test hydrants, saving NFRS time and effort.
- This would be a good project for Community pay back and add social value.
- PF advised that the previous CFO had advised that Anglian Water were not providing appropriate hydrants as set out in planning application.
- The Commissioner has repeatedly asked for evidence of this but this hasn’t been forthcoming.
- PF asked is this a risk and if it is, is it any greater in Northants than anywhere else.
- The question is currently unanswered.
- PF reiterated the request for the data so that the Commissioner can try and do something about it.
- PP confirmed that the previous CFO had written to the Chief Executives of NNC and WNC but did not know the outcome.
Action – PP to look at the audit trail for this and report back to the Commissioner.
- On overtime, the Commissioner commented that previously there was not sufficient control on this but with the working time directive and the Chief Fire Officer implemented controls the Service was looking in a better place.
- The Commissioner asked if the use of sessional workers in Prevention had been stopped as set out within the business case submitted by DD which requested and was granted additional staffing on the basis that sessional workers would cease.
- NA confirmed they haven’t stopped using sessional workers and want to keep using them.
- HK commented that she had voiced concerns with the deliverability and commitments set out within the business case at the time and the Commissioner was right to be concerned as there is no evidence or clear plan on how to stop using them.
- The Chief Fire Officer agreed to review the business case approved predicated on stopping using them.
Action – ST to review the Prevention business case for the use of sessional workers.
- There was a discussion about the replacement of mobile handsets.
- This had slipped in the programme because there was no clarity provided by the Service on requirements, e.g. for what purpose and how many would be needed.
- As a result, they have not been ordered until this information is known and Fire decide who needs one.
- PB advised that there could be potential challenge on the contract.
- PB advised that when Fire have identified their requirements, we can just draw down off the contract. The contract is a fixed price and joint with Fire.
- The more pressing issue is the Fire Duty Management system. The Chief Officer is speaking to PB about this.
- The Commissioner confirmed he is keen to accelerate this as it is essential the Service can effectively plan its resources and will support in any way that he can.
- The Commissioner sought reassurance on the underspend on training. PP advised that the underspend arose from delays in arranging training activity due to uncertainty around strike action.
- PP confirmed this is linked to Op Rookery and there is a plan.
- There was a discussion about the Duty Management System. The Commissioner reiterated that the issues identified need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
- On Specific Grants, the Commissioner asked if a contract has been signed for Fire Protection expenditure, which alongside the staffing expenditure commits the balances of these grants.
- HK advised that there is still more work to be done by the Service to ensure that there are realistic, deliverable and signed off plans to spend the grant allocation as the absence of these and the large underspends in the grants are placing future allocations at risk.
- HK advised that the Commissioner had offered to underwrite any additional staffing requirements some years ago, but the historic grants remain unspent and this is a concern for the Home Office and the Service.
- NA has been seeking this information from the Head of Protection and will review with him when he returns from annual leave.
- NA commented that the reality is, the Service need to get to a position of what resources they need and when to use them and to provide realistic plans which can be submitted. If they don’t use the grant, or have deliverable plans to do so, then the Service will not get the money from the Home Office in future.
- To date the Service hasn’t yet recruited additional Protection officers.
- The Chief Fire Officer commented that they were perhaps being too cautious and would reach out to colleague in other Services on best practise.
Action – ST to speak to colleagues in other Services about their use of the Home Office Protection Grant.
- NA commented that the CFMIS spend has taken a long time to come through. Whilst the Service hasn’t fallen into bad practises as some others have, not spending the money on what could have done is just as bad.
- HK confirmed that the Commissioner had agreed to underwrite any cost if NFRS didn’t get the grant but to date they did not take that opportunity.
- HK also advised that the HO are doing deep dives on Protection grants and if the money isn’t spent then it is taken back so having a plan to spend is paramount otherwise the HO will be demanding that it is paid back.
- The Commissioner asked if the Service was sufficiently ambitious citing the Capital programme as an example of something which doesn’t get delivered each year. He questioned if the Service has a realistic view of what it wanted versus what it could achieve.
- NA advised it is getting more realistic each year. The Estates and maintenance contracts have been signed this year and the Head of Joint Transport and Logistics has done a lot of work on fleet. Contracts are signed on new equipment and the resultant expenditure is coming through.
- HK asked if the Service believes it is getting better at identifying what it needs and specifying its requirements earlier.
- PB confirmed he has discussed this with the new Chief Fire Officer – The Service need to get better at expressing in outcome terms what its requirements are.
- The Commissioner stated he was disappointed that despite continually making resources available, only for the Service not to take advantage.
- This includes the Capital expenditure that has been made available, then projects slip so the money is not always spent.
- In summary, the provisional outturn has enabled NCFRA to maintain and increase some key reserves and use earmarked reserves as planned although it was noted that there are challenges with the MTFP and current reserves will not mitigate against the savings that are required moving forwards.
- The Commissioner advised that he will want to pick this up again as part of the quarterly monitoring.
- The Commissioner formally accepted this paper as the outturn budget report for NFRS for 2022/2023.
The Commissioner thanked those involved in the production of this report and more importantly for involvement in the management of the NFRS devolved budget for 2022/2023. He stated that he was still seeing improvement year on year with how this was managed with less volatility in year but there were areas where the Service needs to improve.
He noted that there had been some significant spends of overtime last year but was provided with assurances that this was now much more robustly managed.
The Commissioner asked for some further assurances relating to the continued use of sessional workers to deliver Fire Safety Checks, as the business case to employ full time staff was predicated on the fact that these would cease.
The Commissioner was also provided with assurances that the NFRS capital programme was being refined regularly and was improving in terms of delivery. It was important to be ambitious, but this needed to be balanced with deliverability.
The Commissioner formally accepted this paper as the outturn budget report for NFRS for 2022/2023.
The Commissioner requests a report on the NFRS response to the 2021 HMICFRS inspection of the service.
The report should outline the progress made in relation to delivery of any improvements required relating to 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.
- Ro Cutler provided an overview of the report which was taken as read.
- 14 Areas for Improvement were identified in the report published in July 2022.
- Each AFI has been allocated to a strategic lead and is monitored within the respective Area Business Plans.
- A full review of the CRMP process is underway to align the Service to the new Fire Standard and will provide a better understanding of the risk profile of Northamptonshire.
- RC confirmed he is satisfied that the Service can evidence the work being carried out and how it can link that into Fire Standards.
- The Commissioner commented that this was useful to know but questioned if the Service will be able to demonstrate to HMICFRS that the work is meaningful and having a positive impact rather than simply completing a series of actions.
- RC confirmed that some are physical aspects i.e., purchased new hardware or going through procurement which demonstrates that something has been done.
- The Commissioner challenged that that won’t necessarily satisfy the AFI.
- The Chief Fire Officer commented that on people you can never say the work is done but can provide assurance that progress is being made.
- If the AFI relates to software or hardware, then we can say it is done; somethings are not able to be fully signed off.
- The Commissioner wondered if it would be helpful for the Chief Fire Officer to have a conversation with the Chief Constable. Police have had many more years of PEEL inspections and sharing this may be invaluable.
- PB agreed that such a conversation would be good to have.
- On grievance and discipline and whether polices are applied consistently and timely. The Commissioner asked the Chief Fire Off if staff have confidence in these processes.
- The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that some are task and finish type actions. It is hard to say if all staff have confidence in the process and therefore the AFI is complete.
- The Commissioner reiterated that the Service must be able to evidence what it has done to satisfy HMICFRS; Breaking down the question and understanding the methodology is key.
- Longer term, consideration should be given to sending out some of our people to become subject experts.
- PB confirmed that Northants Police have made a critical shift in responding to AFIs in that they understand the criteria and look forward whilst addressing the issues of the past.
- RC confirmed that he was starting to look at the three pillars and go through each with Enabling Services to ensure that they can understand and evidence progress.
- The same process is being applied with crews although he is conscious of survey fatigue.
- It was agreed that RC would link in with the Force Liaison Officer to go through what police have just been through.
Action – RC to arrange to meet the Force Liaison Officer for advice and guidance.
- The Commissioner asked if the Service have run any table top exercises in preparation to form part of a multi-agency response to a terrorist incident.
- PP confirmed that they are about to role out the new JESIP and MTA JOTs which are to be adopted by October.
- He had put plans in place to improve them but then had to start again.
- To get to 300 EMAS commanders is a challenge.
- There has been progress and some evolution but there are new challenges and complexities to consider.
- In summary of the discussion, PF raised a concern that whilst HMICFRS will give some credit to the Service for staring the journey, it wont get rid of the AFI.
- The Chief Fire Officer agreed that to get it right you have to look at the context and background of the AFI.
- There was a discussion about the Cause of Concern identified in the last inspection.
- On EDI, the Chief Fire Officer advised that visible leadership is key.
- The Commissioner was pleased to see that the Service had asked him for investment in leadership and supervisory training.
- For real change to happen, there must be effective local leadership and the confidence to challenge from within.
- Traditionally the Service has been good at investing in operational training, now the focus should be on management training to give leaders and supervisors the skills to hold their direct reports to account.
- This has similarly been recognised in the police who are rolling out supervisory training to all sergeants.
- The Chief Fire Officer advised that he will now Chair the Fire Culture Board.
The paper received by the Commissioner provided an update on the 14 identified areas for improvement and the cause of concern from the 2021 HMICFRS inspection of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.
The Commissioner was provided with assurances that they will be in the position to provide evidence that most of the 14 areas for improvement will have been completed by the time of the next inspection. The Chief Fire Officer made the point that the cultural issues will take longer to evidence the effect of them, although the tangible interventions to change them might have been put in place.
There was discussion about the fact that the report made it clear that there was significant work being undertaken but there was a difference between informing people what was taking place and seeing positive change as a result. He was seeking that assurance.
The Commissioner remained concerned about the discharge of the cause of concern and reiterated to the Chief Fire Officer that this work was key and critical.
No further business was raised.