Friday, 8 February 2013

Over the last few days there has been a considerable amount of correspondence and comment from our Government Department regarding council tax, with the Minister advising local authority politicians on Government expectations for the coming year.

There is no doubt that the coalition Government's continuing drive to reduce the fiscal deficit, as well as the reductions to Government grant and the desire to freeze council tax, will have an impact on all public services.

Here in East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service we have delivered significant savings over the past three years whilst continuing to maintain a high quality service, but from April we will have lost a number of jobs and a number of staff. Unfortunately, as the budget pressures increase, then we will have no option other than to reduce our costs.

By the time you read this the Fire Authority will have agreed the budget for next year and I will know what financial envelope I will have to work within. I absolutely believe that we deliver a crucial and effective public service and that we add real value to society.

I am also a great supporter of the NHS, it is a wonderful public service with many dedicated staff, but I am very disturbed by recent reports about appalling care in some hospitals and am astonished that there are instances where patients have been denied basic care.

Everyone who is involved in the public sector has an absolute responsibility to put their public duty first. At the Fire Authority meeting on Thursday we recognised one of the most public spirited public servants it has been my privilege to work with. Diana Williams will be retiring at the end of March after 39 years in the public sector, the past 19 with ESFRS and the Chairman made a well-deserved presentation to Di at her last Fire Authority meeting.

I have spent a lot of time in recent weeks working on the budget report but sometimes I think we have lost sight of what we should be spending money on. Many of you who read this Blog will know I am a keen Chelsea supporter and I still find it difficult to understand how we paid £50million for Fernando Torres, which is more than the annual budget of ESFRS, with more than 900 staff.

I know that in a capitalist society the market forces will prevail, but he's absolutely rubbish and I expect the depreciation factor means his value is now rock bottom and probably ranks alongside an Arsenal or Liverpool season ticket. Although to be fair to Torres, he has only failed to deliver for two seasons where for Arsenal and Liverpool, you need very long memories to remember when they last needed the silver polish!

And whilst Torres has failed to reach his undoubted potential, I finally reached the pinnacle of my career on Thursday; after 37 years in the Service and 12 years as Chief Fire Officer, I finally managed to get the key to the coffee machine. Only a very few people in ESFRS have ever seen the key and I am sure there is a secret society who have been through some sort of secret initiation ceremony that allows them to hold the key to the coffee machine; but someone in the society left the key unattended and it slipped into my pocket. I had the key in my possession and it felt great. Sadly, the feeling did not last too long, as I was required to return the key. I held the power for only a few minutes and I will never forget the sensation of achieving self –actualisation. I have climbed Maslow’s 'hierarchy of needs' and am fulfilled!

My Week

  • Meeting in the stunning venue of Windsor Castle where we discussed, with representatives of the Windsor Leadership Trust (WLT), how we could work together to support our training programmes. A number of Service personnel have been on WLT programmes and they are now keen to learn about the cross-sector developments that are taking place in the Fire Rescue Service; late night though as the M25 was a car park!

  • Met with Penny Thompson, the new Chief Executive Officer for the City Council to see how we can work together on community safety and emergency response. Penny brings a wealth of experience to the role and was involved in Haringey just after the 'Baby Peter' tragedy and is very keen to share data across authorities as well as wanting to ensure we deliver on the 'every visit counts' principle.

  • Went to see Caroline Lucas, one of the City MPs to discuss the Fire Authority budget proposals including council tax, how we continue to deliver community services when our budget is being reduced and also to talk about any future proposals for a merger with another Fire Rescue Service.

  • A very long but enjoyable day was spent assessing and interviewing for the Executive Support Officer’s role. This is the role that supports the Chief Fire Officer and was vacant, following Mani's move to Wealden Borough Commander. I was delighted to have interviewed a group of very able candidates, all who did themselves much credit but, in this case, we only have one job and I am delighted to say that Matt Lloyd was the successful candidate. Matt will now be leaving a great team at Service Training Centre and will start working with me next week.

  • I had to Chair a meeting of the Fire Service College 'Stakeholder Board'. This will be the last meeting of that Board, before the sale to capita is completed at the end of the month. We will then look to establish a relationship with Capita to ensure the College delivers the training and incident command courses that the Service needs.

  • Discussed with Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Gary Walsh, early proposals for incident command in ESFRS and Officer rotas and also how we would wish to take forward our Maritime response arrangements, now that central Government have stopped central funding. We will be meeting representatives from Kent and Hampshire later this month, as we look to maintain a Maritime response for one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

  • I met with a group of senior leaders from the NHS, as I am acting as their syndicate director on their leadership programme. There has been a lot of 'benefit in kind' for me undertaking this role, as some of our staff have been able to access NHS leadership training and 'Masterclasses' free of charge.

Fire Authority Members agreed to accept the council tax freeze grant and not to raise council tax, at a budget setting meeting. There was a lot of debate as members considered a number of options before coming to their decision. Whilst we have a sound budget for the coming year, the Corporate Management Team will now consider the implications for next year and up to 2018. They will be discussing with the Fire Authority the measures they would want to take in the next four years to deliver a balanced budget. Met with staff in the afternoon to discuss the earlier meeting and we will continue to keep staff updated on any future proposals regarding the medium term plan.

A busy weekend for crews with firefighters responding to chimney fires in Seaford, Crowborough, Willingdon Trees and in Lewes, where the Aerial Ladder Platform from Preston Circus was required to assist. Steve Wright has again reminded home owners who like the warmth and glow of an open fire and the smell of toasted crumpets, to ensure that they get their chimneys swept regularly. Lewes firefighters were also called out to a severe fire in a bungalow where the householder had been woken by his dog in the early hours.

Both managed to escape the property through a window and crews wearing breathing apparatus entered the building using compressed air foam system (CAFS) and a hose reel to extinguish the fire. The property was not fitted with smoke detectors and you cannot rely on your dog to wake you if a fire breaks out. ESFRS continue to remind local residents to fit smoke detectors, which will provide an early warning. Also, make sure they are regularly tested, have an escape plan in case a fire does break out and always call the Fire & Rescue Service immediately in the event of a fire.

Three pumps and the Aerial Ladder Platform were sent to a fire at the Brighton & Hove High School where crews found the building heavily smoke logged. The fire appeared to have been caused through an electrical fault, although investigations are continuing. Crews from Preston Circus and Roedean responded to a fire in the Queen Vic (not the Albert Square in Eastenders, so don't worry, Alfie's OK), in Rottingdean. Firefighters entered the property in BA, using hose reels to extinguish the fire and then using a positive pressure ventilation fan (PPV) to remove the smoke.

Firefighters from Eastbourne, alongside staff from headquarters and other stations, as well as a number of our 'Old Friends' attended a ceremony on 7th February. They gathered to remember those who lost their lives 70 years ago during the Second World War, when a bomb was dropped on the old fire station which stood on the site of the current Council Offices in Grove Road.

Keep your eyes open next week for asteroid 2012 DA14; it is hurtling towards Earth at five miles a second, nearly as fast as my touch typing, but will miss our planet by 20,000 miles. In astronomical terms this is a mere Gnat’s whisker, and has a better chance of hitting Earth than Fernando Torres has of hitting the back of the net.

Deep depression hangs over the Super Blues although just about hanging on to a Champions League spot which I'll put a bet on will go to the two Manchester sides, Chelsea and the late surging Gooners. You can get 25:1 for that, so I'm a bit tempted to put some of our reserves on this, as part of my income generation proposals but the rest of Corporate Management Team are not with me on this one; apparently something to do with corporate governance although I still think its within my delegated powers!