Report by the Chief Fire Officer.
The Committee is asked to:
- advise whether the focus on the priorities and outcomes are those members would expect to meet the needs of our communities (section 2)
- advise whether there are particular areas of service improvement which the committee wishes to focus on for future scrutiny
115.1Before the report by the Chief Fire Officer, the Chairman requested that members of the Committee do not put forward any motions but that it is here to hold the Cabinet Member to account.
115.2The Chairman welcomed the Cabinet Member for Fire and Rescue and Communities and asked her to address the Committee regarding her initial views of the Fire and Rescue Service. Cabinet Member confirmed that the portfolio has been changed to reflect the new clarity around governance and that she has attended the Improvement Board. A programme of fire station visits has been started and she would like to extend an invitation to any local member who would like to visit their local station with her. Weekly meetings with the Chief Fire Officer have also been programmed in.
115.3The Chief Executive responded by saying that the eight recommendations are all showing progress but that we need to ensure that the governance is accountable and that the pace of improvement is reasonable.
115.4The Committee considered a report by the Chief Fire Officer (copy appended to signed minutes).
115.5Before introducing her report Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, Chief Fire Officer, thanked everyone present for their warm welcome and special thanks were expressed to Neil Stocker who has been Acting Chief Fire Officer over the last three months. She then introduced the report with a presentation (copy of slides appended to the signed minutes), which highlighted progress but also asked the Committee to identify whether there are particular areas of service improvement planning which the Committee wishes to consider for future scrutiny. Further that staff morale is poor as a result of the “inadequate” rating from the Inspector’s Report, and that this does need to be reflected in the work that is carried out, and the pace of improvement required.
115.6The Chairman once again invited verbal evidence from representatives of the four unions and this invitation was accepted by Antony Walker on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union, Dan Sartin on behalf of Unison and James Diston on behalf of the Fire and Rescue Services Association. Apologies were received from the Fire Officers Association.
115.7The Fire Brigades Union representative thanked the Committee for the opportunity to again address the Committee, and expressed gratitude for their involvement on the Improvement Board. Also thanked the Cabinet Member for her visits to fire stations. Capacity to deliver the change required is an issue which must be noted, and that the time to complete the improvement journey should not be underestimated.
115.8The UNISON representative thanked the Committee for the opportunity to speak again and stated that the points he will make refer to the whole Council, not just Fire and Rescue Service. Asked that councillors become more involved in staffing issues, which would require a change to the current approach. Confirmed that UNISON together with the other unions had taken up the offer from the Leader at the previous meeting to meet with her and two Cabinet colleagues. Engagement at higher levels was welcomed, and it was hoped would be maintained. The staff survey had revealed concerns among respondents that they did not work in an environment in which they felt able to speak out honestly. Take-up on the listening project had been poor. Many staff members still did not have PDR objectives. However, it is still early days.
UNISON had requested that formal stress assessments are used as a tool to help safeguard staff welfare. Across the Council, unions appear only to be seen as of relevance when consultation is a legal requirement, rather than as a supporting resource for people and culture workstreams.
115.9The Fire and Rescue Services Association representative thanked the Committee for the opportunity to speak and confirmed that recruitment and retention is an issue and the subsequent loss of experience is an ongoing concern. He also echoed the concerns of the other union representatives regarding the capacity and workload and the culture of bullying.
115.10The Chief Fire Officer thanked the unions for their observations and she will pick up the stress surveys with UNISON outside of this meeting.
115.11The Committee made the following comments including those that follow. It:
· Asked whether Houses in Multiple Occupation are included as high risk? Yes, HMO’s are included and Fire and Rescue Service will supply these figures to the Committee.
· Welcomed the stress surveys but asked whether there is sufficient support to managers to be able to spot the signs of stress.
· Noted the ongoing concerns around retention and recruitment of “on-call” firefighters and the lack of mentors that are now available but acknowledged that this is a long-term issue.
· Noted the ongoing concerns around bullying and how this also affects staff morale.
115.11 Resolved – That the Committee:-
1. Welcomes the progress and the Implementation Plan and that the prevention and protection work will be addressed before the next inspection.
2. Acknowledged that the staffing element will take longer to resolve.
3. That union engagement in the improvement plan delivery process is continued and that the unions continue to provide evidence and input to the Committee as required.
4. Recommends that all local members visit their local fire stations.
5. Supports the use of the stress surveys and acknowledges the high workload that staff are under.
6. Would like to receive an update of the project plan for the Blue Light project.
7. Supports the prioritising of workloads to avoid staff burnout, and asks the unions to help monitor progress.
8. Would like to monitor and scrutinise, at the appropriate time, but potentially in January 2020:
Business Process Review
FC20 Project Process
Progress on the Improvement Plan (including information on retained recruitment and retention)
Communication Engagement Plan (potentially in Nov 2019).
Progress on addressing bullying
The Inspector’s report from the planned January visit
The equality impact assessment.
9. That any change to response standards is scrutinised by the Committee, as/when any change is proposed.
10.Supports the need for a separate Select Committee to cover the Fire and Rescue Service.