Earlier this week, it was announced that Lance Corporal James Ashworth 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards had posthumously been awarded the Victoria Cross for making the ultimate sacrifice as part of the Armed Forces deployment in Afghanistan. Testimonies by his Commanding Officer and his fellow soldiers spoke about the bravery and selflessness of Lance Corporal Ashworth, a soldier held in the highest regard by his colleagues. The Victoria Cross is only awarded to those who show the highest courage. Lance Corporal Ashworth's sacrifice will not be forgotten as his name is added to the long line of those who have given their lives to save others.
I have mentioned before the Firefighters Memorial at St Paul's and in the week after the recent Marlie Farm court proceedings, can I suggest it is certainly worth a visit. You can pay your own tribute to colleagues who have given their lives and also at the National Arboretum in Arlesford; this is a wonderful place, very peaceful and tranquil and is a very good day out.
It was a sporting weekend where dreams were either made or shattered and the biggest disappointment was the England Rugby team, on the verge of their first 'grand slam' in ten years and absolutely blasted off the park by a really fired-up Welsh team. They'll be singing in the valleys for weeks and I had to turn my phone off, as just about every Welsh citizen I know wanted to speak or text to ask if I had seen the match!
I am sure many people will have listened carefully this Wednesday to see what George Osbourne had to say in his budget speech. It looks like more of the same, although there is some help for people wanting to buy their own home, removal of planned fuel duty increases and an increase in the threshold for income tax from April 2014. As ever the 'devil is in the detail' and the analysis indicates that some think it is about as far as the Chancellor could have gone, whilst others wanted to see more money put into stimulating growth. As for the public sector, whilst some departments have been protected, overall the message is that we still need to make more savings.
For the wider picture, I am sure the news from Cyprus was unexpected, but for the Cypriot people, the proposal to put a levy on their savings caused uproar, and is anyone surprised by the reaction? We have had to check to see whether we have any retired staff now in Cyprus and receiving pensions, as wanted to make sure that if we were making any payments into Cypriot banks, that their money would be secure. It is often the dream to retire to one of the Mediterranean countries, but in recent years, the reality is unfortunately not quite as rosy as the dream once seemed.
Out of any adversity, there is always the story of triumph and I was delighted to see Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot for simply arguing for the right of all young girls in Pakistan to go to school. A very courageous young lady who thankfully has made a very good recovery and is now going to school in Birmingham; I expect this is not the last we have heard of Malala and I would be surprised if at some time in the future we hear of Malala in the same way we have heard of Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi or Aung San Suu Kyi.
- Went to a meeting of local authority chief executives where we discussed the opportunities to share premises, future infrastructure projects across the county and city and the programme for every elector to have to register to vote in any future election.
- Had a number of meetings at headquarters to discuss health and safety issues, the internal process we have for short listing, leadership and management training for supervisory and middle managers and future training at the Fire Service College.
- Meeting with Corporate Management Team (CMT) to look at Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) proposals, to develop plans to meet our savings targets for the next three years and to prepare for the new Fire Authority which will be in place after the local elections in May, where we will have at least six new members on the Fire Authority at their next meeting in June.
- A busy Monday with three exit interviews, Liz Bryant who works in the HR team looking after our payroll - is any job more important! Liz will be leaving after ten years with ESFRS and we send her our very best wishes. I also saw Ian Smith a stalwart of M&CC with 26 years in ESFRS and he has been the reassuring voice on the end of the phone to many people. Now off to play more golf and spend more time at the Amex Stadium (odd for a West Ham supporter). We wish Ian well and hope his team don't have to play Chelsea every week! Then I met with Diana Williams who has worked for 39 years in Brighton & Hove Council, East Sussex County Council and the last 19 years with ESFRS. Diana is a true star and has been an absolute pillar of ESFRS. I shall miss Di and there is no doubt there will be a huge organisation void when Di retires; good luck and best wishes to a dear friend.
- Quite a bit of business was discussed when I met with the FBU for our regular quarterly meeting. Next up was a meeting with our new auditors, Ernst & Young, and after many years working with the Audit Commission it is interesting to work with a private sector business that will bring a different approach to auditing our Service.
- Further meeting with Karen who was back in on a 'keeping in touch day' as Karen is still on maternity leave and finally a meeting with staff to discuss how we can approach income generation and what commercial opportunities there may be for ESFRS.
- Went to see the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) of West Sussex, Sean Ruth, to discuss how the two Services can continue working together. The Sussex Control Centre project is progressing well but there is now much less likelihood of a merger so we discussed how we can share functions and will be discussing this with our individual Corporate Management Teams to see what is realistically achievable.
- Meeting of the South East CFOs where we discussed joint procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), workwear, appliances and equipment and also the work that we have been involved in on standard operating procedures, and national operational guidance.
- Monthly CMT where we looked carefully at the financial outcome for the current year as we finalise out accounts. ESFRS has managed to deliver a small underspend in a number of areas, including fleet and engineering where we have reduced our fuel costs, on insurance and made savings in procurement. We have also delivered an underspend in the employees budget due, partly to staff turnover and also savings on the capital programme where some projects have slipped. The Authority have agreed that underspends can be carried forward and put into reserves for earmarked projects and to keep the capital programme on track.
- I attended the funeral service of Merle Carden, the much loved wife of Cllr Bob Carden who is one of the longer service Members of our Fire Authority. Merle sadly passed away recently and many friends, colleagues and local Councillors attended the service to pay their respects to Merle and to offer Bob our support.
This week firefighters from Crowborough and Uckfield responded to a road traffic collision near Five Ashes involving two cars with one person trapped. The police and SECAmb were in attendance and crews freed the casualty who was then looked after by paramedics.
Earlier in the week, crews from Battle and Bohemia Rd responded to a road traffic collision in Battle with three vehicles involved and two people trapped and two others quickly released and taken to hospital. Firefighters worked to free the trapped casualties who were then taken to hospital. The Mobilising & Communications Centre (M&CC) received eight separate calls to a van fire in Patcham, which was causing damage to a neighbouring property. Firefighters from Preston Circus responded using a hose reel and Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) to extinguish the fire.
Firefighters from Eastbourne responded to a serious road traffic collision near Beachy Head, involving one car and a Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) with one person trapped. Crews worked to free the casualty with the air ambulance crew in attendance at the scene.
And congratulations to 12 pupils from Manor Primary School and St Phillip's School in Uckfield who designed the winning posters as part of the national "Fire Kills" campaign. They were invited to Uckfield fire station where they helped local crews at a charity car wash - what a fantastic prize.
As I write this Blog, I have heard the news that Gus Poyet may be leaving the Amex for pastures new in Reading. Gus has done a fantastic job with the Seagulls and I hope he stays to get them into the Premiership but if he does leave, then good luck and who knows, in three years it could be The Bridge!