Fire Accountability Board Minutes 9 August 2022




PFCC Stephen Mold (SM)

Paul Fell (PF)

Helen King (HK)

Louise Sheridan (LS)

CFO Darren Dovey (DD)

ACFO Shaun Hallam (SH)

ACFO Rob Porter (RP)


Minutes and Actions from previous meeting


SM welcomed everyone to the meeting

Apologies were accepted from:

ACO Paul Bullen and Nicci Marzec

The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.

Relevant updates on any outstanding actions were provided and the Action Log updated.

  • Plans are currently being reviewed and updated to ensure that there is sufficient resilience across the county should there be any industrial action in relation to the national pay discussions.
  • CFO Darren Dovey is meeting with local FBU reps to discuss their ‘failure to agree’ letter in respect of the role map and NFRS firefighters searching for High-Risk vulnerable missing people on 10th He will update the Commissioner and the Monitoring Officer following the meeting.

Action – DD to update the Commissioner and Monitoring Officer following the FBU meeting, in relation to role map dispute for missing person searches.


Budget Outturn position 2021/2022


The Commissioner requires a report that provides details of the final outturn position for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service for the financial year 2021/2022


  • HK advised that the underspend was higher than expected for a number of reasons
  • The Home Office gave additional grants at year end which have contributed to the underspend.
  • Also, procurement has been taking longer and some teams had more optimistic spending plans than could be achieved.
  • More focussed work will be done with a small number of teams to support them with better internal controls, forecasting and budget management in 2022/23.
  • HK and PB have flagged the areas in question with line managers and practical actions have been identified in relation to procurement rules and invoice management.
  • Despite the underspend, spending on overtime and bank staff is a concern and more detailed analysis is required
  • In 2022/23 there is currently a £750k overspend on wholetime overtime; Accepting that Q1 is typically higher, better control over the remainder of the year is needed
  • As a result, HK would like overtime spend to be added to Monitoring reports in 2022/23 (as we do with the police) so that more detailed analysis can be undertaken particularly as HMICFRS commented that absence management needs improvement.
  • Monitoring will also include pump availability and resource deployment to understand the full picture.
  • SH caveated that £300k of £750k includes a 2% pay award assumption

Action – SH is already working with Deanna to drill down into the payment of overtime and use of Bank staff and he will pick this up with NA on his return from annual leave. HK advised that NA will keep her sighted and involve her as required.


  • There was a discussion about open orders, relating to installation of fire hydrants and a backlog that has built up over a long period.
  • There is a duty under the current Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 that the Service secure the provision of water supplies for firefighting purposes. This means that water companies provide the necessary water supply, but the Fire and Rescue Service is responsible for determining the location of hydrants and for their subsequent testing, repair, and maintenance.
  • When a new development within the county is planned, the Fire and Rescue Service determines the risk and recommends the number and position of fire hydrants required to the water authority. Each hydrant is strategically placed to ensure the minimum provision is made, whilst delivering the optimum supply of firefighting water from a mains system.
  • Open orders are charged to the Fire budget in line with proper financial practices when they are raised and relate to new hydrants that have been installed, but notification as to whether they have been connected by the water company has not been confirmed. NFRS must go and locate them and check that they have been connected. Until they do this the Order remains open.
  • CFO Dovey advised that most Services have same issue and that going out to find them and check them takes resource.
  • A more sensible approach would be for Anglian Water to notify NFRS when a Hydrant has been installed or replaced and its location.
  • At a national level there needs to be a dialogue with Water UK
  • HK advised that professionally this is an area that does need regular housekeeping as not only do Fire operationally need to know what hydrants are there and working, but the Fire budget will be charged for things which may never need to be paid. As such, budgets could be spent which do not need to have been and as such, if Open Orders are not managed and reviewed on a timely basis (which is why there have been operational reviews each year) it has the potential to become a significant issue.
  • An increase in the water hydrant provision of £64k for billing for hydrants not yet installed/replaced at year end brings the totals to £166k
  • In addition, £33k has been requested from the carry forwards and set aside for a temporary Hydrant Technician to mitigate the increasing backlog but a business case is awaited.
  • HK explained that a more permanent solution needs to be taken forward otherwise this will become an increasing issue – as it will not go away.
  • DD reiterated that it is an ongoing issue and difficult to resolve.
  • There was a discussion about the variances on the provisional outturn.
  • Resilience and training within Control has resulted in an overspend of £25k. Some staff changes took place during the year which created pay overlaps during training.
  • Chief Fire Officer Dovey confirmed this scenario will not be repeated in this financial year.
  • There was a discussion about covid related sickness which it is anticipated increased towards the end of 2021. Overtime monitoring moving forward will provide evidence based information to enable drawdowns from the COVID reserve to manage such pressures.
  • This increased the underspend in Retained and the overspend in Wholetime.
  • There was a discussion about the reductions in ICT contractual spend although the adoption of new licenses in software reduced the overall savings.
  • The Commissioner noted these changes as a positive step that will deliver permanent savings in the longer term and welcomed this progress.
  • There was a discussion about Leadership training,
  • The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that there is currently no Executive Leadership training programme in place; slipped due to covid, however a National Supervisory Leadership Development Programme (SLDP) launces in October as such an underspend arose due to timing
  • The overall purpose of a national SLDP is to achieve consistent development of our first line leaders across Fire and Rescue Services, measured against the NFCC Leadership frameworkand Core Learning Pathway.
  • It aims to create leaders who are people-focused and more empowering and encouraging to those that they lead through a leadership style that is collaborative and inclusive.
  • EDI is a specific part of the programme.
  • Longer term, all managers will need a refresh on and that is part of the training plan.
  • Having a national SLDP provides a level of consistency across the fire sector whilst still enabling Services to add more local training if required
  • There was a discussion about the next tranche of inspections and a HMICFRS ERG meeting on the current tranche of reporting specifically relating to pillar 3: People.
  • The Commissioner was interested to know what Fire and Rescue Services could learn from Lancashire who were graded as outstanding for values and culture.
  • Chief Fire Officer Dovey commented that NFRS was the second most improved service across the piece.
  • Poor culture has been flagged across the sector with pillar 3: people being the weakest strand.
  • The Commissioner asked if any of the general reserves that have been agreed as part of the savings and efficiencies for 2022/23 will be earmarked for addressing some of this.
  • HK advised that Q2 will be key in monitoring the savings and efficiencies plan, particularly in regard to overtime as looking at the Q1 monitoring, it is unlikely it will be achieved and in fact is overspending. Furthermore, the 2022/23 budget is over not underspending and future budget monitoring reports need to set out how any overspend will be addressed.
  • HK did highlight that overtime and bank staff monitoring needs to set out the additional major and other incidents being experienced by Fire due to the unprecedented hot weather as they are above usual business and we would consider reserve drawdown or other funding options.
  • We will also need to see how some of the inflationary pressures are impacting the efficiencies savings plan.
  • The Commissioner reiterated that the Service would need to remain focussed on improving the grading in pillar 3. Additional financial support to deliver the improvement will most likely be from a mixture of reserves and efficiencies
  • HK confirmed that she is seeing improvement every year in terms of better procurement, budget management and internal controls understanding.
  • In HK’s professional view and that of the Internal Auditors, there is still progress to be made but she recognises how NFRS have moved forward since 2019.
  • DD added that every year for past three years NFRS have had an underspend despite all the changes and challenges they have had to adapt to. The current cost of living situation is unprecedented.
  • HK concluded the discussion by adding that the underspends to date have enabled Fire to have a financial buffer but if there is an overspend for 22/23 and a need t set aside funding for Industrial action contingency measures and pay pressures then the financial buffer will be gone, pressures will fall on the Fire budget and there will be a need to build reserves again.

Assurance Statement:

The Commissioner was presented with a paper on the outturn budget position for 2021/2022.

The Commissioner was assured with the improved position this year, relating to compliance with procurement and financial rules. He was assured that any noncompliance was isolated rather than widespread and as such stressed that after 3 years of new governance more robust action needed to be taken against those that failed to comply.

He agreed that further analysis was required on an ongoing basis on the worrying overspends on overtime and bank staffing and asked for this to be undertaken and included in future monitoring reports so that remedial action could be taken.

The Commissioner agreed the Fire carry forward requests outlined in the paper, totalling £101,000 and the transfer to earmarked reserves set out in the paper.

The Commissioner acknowledged that there had been some Covid related slippage in leadership training last year. He reiterated the importance of not letting this happen again this year, given the links between this and the cultural concerns expressed in the HMICFRS inspection.

The Commissioner, recognising the current position on inflationary pressures asked for more details to be provided on progress against the 2022/2023 efficiency and savings plans.


Emergency Cover Review


The Commissioner requires a report that provides a written update on the progress made so far on the Chief Fire Officer emergency cover review. This should also include an assessment of progress relating to any agreed timescales.


  • ACFO Rob Porter provided an overview of progress to date.
  • Regular meetings have been taking place between the project team and updates provided to FEG.
  • A meeting between ACFO Rob Porter and Paul Fell will take place on Friday 12th to provide more detail on the work completed by ORH in lie with the agreed timescales.
  • ACFO Porter stated that good progress is being made, a report framework has been prepared with an option appraisal which will be reviewed over the next two weeks which include Emergency Cover Models, options for Duty systems, Operational Response and community safety considerations along with financial implications.
  • Additional information is being sought around 13/16 mutual aid arrangements.
  • ACFO Porter confirmed that HR, Fleet and Finance have all been consulted and involved in the project meetings.
  • The project timeline is tight but given the strategic importance of this work mitigating actions are in place to ensure it remains on track.
  • The Commissioner reiterated the importance of the Emergency Cover Review and whilst he does not wish to extend the deadline for delivery he is cognisant of the importance that the modelling of the various scenarios are fully worked through and understood.
  • Given the limited detail in the report it was greed that Paul Fell would update the Commissioner after his meeting with ACFO Porter (scheduled for Friday 12th August) to provide further reassurance.


Action – PF to update SM after his meeting with RP

Assurance Statement:

The Commissioner, whilst welcoming the fact that the report stated work was on track in relation to the emergency cover review, he was disappointed that given the importance of this work, there was a lack of detail in terms of the initial findings of the analysis undertaken thus far. However, he welcomed confirmation that the review team had now involved enabling departments in this work.

The Commissioner requested a further update after the meeting between PF and RP on 12th August 2022.

Regarding timescales, the Commissioner was cognisant of the tight deadlines but reminded the Chief Officer Team that these were their deadlines. He made the point that while he did not support a long delay, it was important that the work was thorough. He reiterated the urgency of the work but mindful that getting is right was more important than meeting an arbitrary deadline.


HMICFRS inspection update


The recent HMICFRS inspection of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service has identified a potential cause for concern in relation to culture in the workforce. While the inspection report is still in draft format it raises significant concern and will require the NFRS to produce an action plan to address those issues by 31st August 2022.


The Commissioner requires a copy of this action plan and a covering paper demonstrating an understanding of the issues in the HMICFRS report ahead of this being submitted to HMICFRS.


  • ACFO Rob Porter gave an overview on the paper provided.
  • The cause for concern in the HMICFRS inspection report relates to pillar 3: People and requests that by 31st August 2022, NFRS should develop an action plan to:
    • Engage with its staff to develop clear EDI objectives and training to increase awareness of EDI and its importance across the organisation, including understanding and addressing the impact positive action is having on staff.
    • Make sure it has robust processes in place to undertake equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result; make improvements to the way it collects equality data to better understand its workforce demographic and needs and;
    • Support staff and managers to confidently challenge and manage inappropriate behaviour.
  • As a result of the cause for concern, NFRS has engaged a working group consisting of EDI group members, HR, workforce development and CRG staff led by Group manager Stefan Douglas to produce an action plan.
  • The draft plan was discussed at an EDI meeting on Friday 5th August with senior functional leads from Fire and Enabling Services Departments. This included OPFCC representation.
  • The meeting was positive, and a discussion was had in relation to resourcing as the current positive action team in HR have no additional capacity to support.
  • HK and DD attended the meeting and confirmed that it was a positive meeting and set out good ways to take things forward.
  • HK advised the Commissioner that there was no EDI resource in the Joint HR business case for Fire and Police, when the joint HR team was created, as such it is not part of the joint team resource. There was a good conversation about how to take this forward.
  • RP confirmed that work on the action plan has already begun and reiterated the need for additional resource to assist with the work.
  • There was a discussion about the EDI training which had already been completed.
  • CFO Dovey advised that all EDI training to date has been via e-learning and is completed annually. Most recent feedback from staff is that they would prefer face-to-face training.
  • Whilst a lot of training has been delivered, it is not landing at stations and there is still some resistance to the positive action message.
  • If it were to be delivered by an external organisation it would have more credibility than if it were to be delivered by officers.
  • There was a discussion about the opportunity to pump prime EDI training with a professional training company who are experts in EDI.
  • RP confirmed he is having that conversation with Paul Bullen.
  • The Commissioner reiterated that it is important to address the cause for concern quickly. If NFRS does not have the capacity to do this internally, we will need to find the money to resource this externally with a professional company if necessary.
  • There was a discussion about the structures and processes in place to deal with any behaviour that falls short of the standards expected; training is only part of the process.
  • The Chief Fire Officer recognised that in some of the small Watch teams there is a reluctance to challenge poor or inappropriate behaviour and there is a need to show Watch managers that they we recognise that it is difficult to challenge but senior managers will support you.
  • There was a discussion about the recent HMICFRS ERG meeting which Paul Fell attended on the Commissioners behalf.
  • In tranche 2, Values and Culture saw the greatest deterioration with concerns raised in 8 out of the 15 fire and rescue services inspected.
  • In terms of the draft plan, ACFO Porter advised that it will be reviewed by FEG on Friday so a final version of the plan should be available by the end of next week. (19th August).
  • There was a discussion about the equality Impact assessment work; NFCC methodology is being used
  • Whilst training is underway with policy leads, there is a concern as to how long it will take for someone to go through 150 quality impact assessments.
  • It was agreed that this work should be added to the business case for consideration.
  • In response to a question by DD whether Fire can start to procure the external training, HK advised she felt from last week’s meeting that Fire had not quite finalised their requirements and in her view it would be a bit premature to start procurement before finalising them as the right service may not be procured.
  • From her perspective HK felt the action plan included some of the relevant areas and would feed back her comments to RP.
  • RP agreed to share with Sgt. Megan SaeThang from Northants police and ask for her feedback to add to the specification.
  • CFO Dovey welcomed the support of Sgt. Megan SaeThang.
  • The Commissioner reiterated his position on the urgency of getting this work underway. Indicative costs are needed on EDI training, but we also need to be clear what it is we want.
  • Common courtesy, decency and respect are core values of the Service and we expect our firefighters and staff to adhere to them
  • Before concluding this discussion, HK queried the one of the sentences in the Capacity to deliver the action plan.
  • Point 6.1 The EDI function within Fire is under resourced. Previous requests to increase establishment through the employment of an EDI professional had been denied for other organisational reasons, hence the repurposing of a GM function within Service during September 2020.
  • HK queried this as there was no record of any application made and she had no recollection of a request or a business case to the PFCC to fund an EDI post and as such the PFCC had not denied any request.
  • Chief Fire Officer Dovey confirmed that this was the case, but that he had included the post in a list of prioritised investment requests as part of the budget a few years ago.

However, there were insufficient funds to support every request that was made to the Commissioner without additional savings and the Chief Fire Officer prioritised a complex case officer post for the investment.

Assurance Statement:

The Commissioner requested this report following the cause of concern identified by HMICFRS in their last inspection of NFRS.

He acknowledged that the current action plan was in draft form but that it appeared to deal with the points raised by HMICFRS. He reiterated however that this was a theoretical action plan, and it was only through effective delivery that the issue will be resolved.

The Commissioner made the point that while there was a cause of concern from HMICFRS to be addressed, this was not the end game. This is part of a wider people, culture and values piece of work to make sure that the NFRS workforce is representative, inclusive and values everyone.




  • No further business was raised.