Friday, 18 January 2013

It is another bad week for retail, with the news that HMV are calling in the administrators with the likely loss of more than 4,000 jobs.

This comes on the back of the closure of Comet, just before Christmas, and Jessops ceasing to trade in the New Year. There are around 13,000 jobs gone in a month which means 13,000 people, who were bringing in a wage, now having to look for other work. The retail sector is a very competitive industry and if you chose this as a career option then you need to understand you are entering one of the most volatile industry sectors, where innovation and change are constant just to keep you one step ahead of your competitors.

Napoleon once described the United Kingdom as a nation of shopkeepers and Adam Smith in his tome 'The Wealth of Nations' also made similar reference. However, neither made these comments as a criticism or in a disparaging way, indeed they were being complimentary and referring to the UK's wealth and position being founded on trade and its mercantile heritage.

But what about the shops that were once familiar on the British high street, which now appear in some towns to be dominated by charity stores. Is this a sign of the continuing downturn in the economy or changing shopping habits? It wasn't too long ago that shopping was considered to be one of this country's biggest leisure activities with the likes of Bluewater in Kent, the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Milton Keynes Shopping Centre being the 'place to be'. Although from a personal perspective I'd rather spend Saturday doing the ironing than be within 20 miles of a shopping centre!

How many of us now use Amazon rather than going to the local high street? I hope that the criticism of using Luxembourg as a base, to avoid paying their fair share of tax, will cause them to re-think their strategy. With official figures showing that inflation is running at 2.7% it will continue to be a tough year for many people. Therefore, as we come towards finalising our budget for the coming year, we are working on how we can protect our services and despite the pressures do more to keep the public safe.

The latest high street controversy involves horsemeat in beef burgers; the supermarkets involved are investigating how this could have happened. Yet, across the Channel our mainland European neighbours are wondering what all the fuss is about. If we leave aside the issue that if it states beef on the packet then it should contain beef and not horse. Is there anything wrong with eating horsemeat and if we can cheerfully chomp on Bambi and Skippy, why not Dobbin?

But back to more serious matters, what is going wrong at Stamford Bridge? Hopefully, the question will be answered with the red half of North London getting a good hammering on Sunday. I am absolutely confident that all those Arsenal fans who have looked enviously at the success of the Super Blues, over the past eight years, will be crying into their beer on Sunday afternoon, as they come to terms with another season with an empty trophy cabinet.

The Fire Authority considered the draft budget proposals this Thursday and will set the budget in three weeks’ time. The focus will be to deliver high quality prevention, protection and response services at a price the public can afford to pay and within our available budget and our grant from Government. Over the past few years we have had a great deal of success with a range of community safety initiatives and have delivered real benefits to local people through the LIFE Project, Coaching for a Safer Community and a host of other local station initiatives. Our intention is to continue this work, in partnership with other authorities and agencies and where we can, seeking grant funding to support.

We will also be looking at the potential to generate income through commercial training and other opportunities. I am sure all of you will have seen the terrible scenes following the helicopter crash in London on Wednesday and the rapid and professional response from all the emergency services and in particular the London Fire Brigade. Sadly, two lives were lost and a number of people injured in the accident but we should be thankful that the loss of life wasn't much greater as the accident occurred at one of the busiest times in our capital city.

Well done to everyone in ESFRS as we have been recognised as being 93rd in the top 100 employers in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. This is a great achievement and is testimony to all our continuing commitment to fairness and diversity in the workplace and to our core values. Thanks to Hampshire Fire Rescue Service who have been at our Training Centre this week to peer assess our BA training. This is a great example of collaboration between Services, supporting each other to drive up standards. Finally it's true, we have become a nation of marshmallows with the Evening Standard warning of heavy snow falling; and just how much snow is predicted, 5 cms, that's two inches in old money. Whichever way you look at it, 5cms cannot be described as 'heavy' you can't even make a snowman with that. This is a just another example of the sad decline in the moral fibre of some people and when they continue to complain about sub-zero temperatures, put your vest on, stop complaining and spare a thought for 68 year old Sir Ranalph Fiennes who is trekking 2000km across Antarctica in temperatures that can reach minus 90; now that is chilly!

My Week

  • Visited Bedfordshire FRS where I served from 1984 to 1995 and met up with some old colleagues and had a look at their training centre and their water rescue capability.
  • A number of meetings held at HQ to discuss the use of video conferencing and more user friendly systems, similar to 'FaceTime', to cut down on travel and to make better use of new technology. Also, also had a chat with the Chairman about this week's Fire Authority meeting, which will look in detail at our Service planning proposals
  • Spoke with one of the people I am mentoring to discuss their personal development plan and also caught up with the coach I worked with over the past two years. It’s really helpful to have someone from outside ESFRS who you can bounce ideas off and who can give you external challenge.
  • Discussion with colleagues in Scotland about the merger to one FRS which is now just under ten weeks away - interesting to note that Scotland will be moving from eight separate FRSs to one over the same time period we were going to merge with West Sussex. The big difference is that it is going ahead in Scotland but not in Sussex, despite our best efforts and determination to make it happen and support from our Fire Authority.
  • Discussion with community safety team on their plans for the next three years - they have a real understanding of local risks and what we can do to support our communities. It is always great to talk with this team as they are highly motivated, always coming up with new ideas and are constantly looking at the bigger picture and how we can use our knowledge, skills and experience along with our resources to really make a difference.
  • Meeting in London with the Chairman and the other Fire Authorities in the South-East to look at joint initiatives and how we must work more closely together to get greater efficiencies and economies of scale.
  • Attended Fire Authority meeting where the main item was the budget, which will have to be agreed on 7th February. There are a lot of uncertainties for members to consider and they did agree that we will need to do things differently in the future. They mentioned possible mergers with West Sussex, Surrey or Kent, generating more income and planning over the longer term.
  • Staff briefing at HQ, which was very well attended but I think this was more to do with the Fire Minister Brandon Lewis attending the meeting. I gave an overview to staff on the debate earlier in the day at the Fire Authority and answered a few questions before the Minister spoke with the staff and also answered questions before going to meet other staff in fleet and engineering, as well as Community Fire Safety.

This week crews from Wadhurst were called to a stable fire in Windmill Lane, Durgates; supported by firefighters from Crowborough, Mayfield and Tunbridge Wells. Oncoming crews were met with a serious fire situation which resulted in many repeat calls. Firefighters used jets, Compressed Air Foam System and Breathing Apparatus to bring the fire under control.

Quick thinking firefighters from Crowborough responded to a male who had collapsed with a suspected epileptic seizure; the crew were passing when they saw the man in distress, providing oxygen therapy and then handing over to paramedics when they arrived at the scene.

Firefighters from Broad Oak, supported by The Ridge, responded to vehicle accident at Brede Hill where they found a car on its side with one female casualty trapped. Crews worked to free the casualty working with SECAmb colleagues before the casualty was taken to hospital. Preston Circus crews responded to a two-vehicle collision, with one casualty trapped inside a vehicle. Working alongside colleagues from Sussex Police and SECAmb, crews used hydraulic equipment to release the casualty.

Eastbourne firefighters responded to a collision involving three vehicles, with one person trapped in Wilmington. Crews worked to release the casualty who was immediately taken to hospital for further treatment. This spate of vehicle accidents has caused ESFRS to provide a warning to drivers to be cautious and careful as the temperature drops. There may be patches of black ice on the roads and drivers should lower their road speed to suit the more difficult driving conditions and leave a larger gap to the vehicle in front. Drivers are also reminded to ensure they fully clear their windscreens, side and rear windows of ice before driving.