Friday, 5 April 2013

 hope you enjoyed the Easter break, even if it was a bit chilly. We are a 24/7 emergency service and whilst all our fire stations, Mobilising & Communications Centre, duty officers and on‑call staff are always available, for most of us it was a long weekend with, hopefully, some time to spend with family and enjoying a hot cross bun or Easter egg.   

The other bonus was the extra hour of daylight with the clocks going forward and also the time to check smoke alarms and change the battery, if needed.  But the downside of this long cold spell is the extra heating bills we will all face.  How is it we seem to have got our energy policy so badly wrong with successive Governments ducking the issue that we are not self-sufficient in energy and, if we continue to rely on imported gas and oil, we will be held to ransom by the producers and suppliers? 

Over the weekend, two of our long serving coal-fired power stations at Didcot and Cockenzie were switched off, but what is replacing them?  Continuing prevarications about nuclear energy, planning consents and the 'nimby' lobby, leave this country exposed to a future where the lights will burn less brightly.  Sixty years ago we led the world when the UK opened the world's first nuclear power station at Calder Hall that generated electricity on an industrial scale but where are we in the 21st Century?  

We no longer have the engineering base that was once the envy of the world and have to go overseas to France and other places for nuclear engineers. All we appear to be good for today is to put up a few wind turbines that contribute diddly-squat to our overall energy needs. What we need is leadership and decisive action, otherwise we will be cooking by candlelight in another decade.  And, as for decisiveness, we now see the merger of Fire and Rescue Services and Police Forces in Scotland has gone ahead but, south of the border we remain with what I truly believe is an antiquated structure that is not as efficient and effective as it could be.

The present structure for Fire Rescue Services and Police has served us extremely well and there is much to be proud of. Also, 'bigger is not necessarily better' and some smaller Services have been highly effective but the fiscal pressures we face are unrelenting and there is now an opportunity to be bold and innovative in designing a truly joined up emergency and civil protection service as our legacy for future generations.  I wish our colleagues north of the border our very best and I know that the senior leaders and staff will do their utmost to deliver high quality, high performing services to the people they serve.   

I thought it was only the Canadian Mounties who 'always got their man' but it seems HMRC are just as diligent as the Canadian law enforcers with a report in the Sunday Times that whilst William Shakespeare may well have been one of this country's most famous playwrights he was also a tax dodger.

Shakespeare was also a wealthy landowner and documents recently seen show he was hauled before the courts on a number of occasions for evading tax and for illegally stockpiling food to sell later at inflated prices.  HMRC are now looking at any unpaid taxes for the period 1598 to 1613 to see if there is a case that can be brought to seek recovery from the current Shakespeare estate. With interest for 400 years, this would probably pay for a new power station to be built on the estate's land!   

I hope you enjoyed your Easter eggs at the weekend, you can do a lot of bribing with chocolate. However, beware the Easter egg on sale at Indian Dining in Warlingham; made with chocolate, a ghost chilli, scotch bonnet and a habeneo is said to be ten times hotter than a vindaloo ‑ phew that is hot, but I'm pretty sure that one of our old colleagues, Gary Locker, now working at West Sussex Fire Rescue Service, could have 'eaten that for breakfast' in his Hove curry eating days! 

The restaurant said that if you wanted to order one, you had to be over 18, and sign a disclaimer.  I understand Alex Ferguson has also signed a disclaimer that he is not responsible for winning the FA Cup if they ever have to play the Super Blues, who turned on a magical performance on Monday that almost made me warm to Rafa Benitez!

My Week

  • Hectic day at headquarters with feedback to candidates who had recently been for an interview, looked at papers for a forthcoming tribunal, discussed the draft auditors report and then further discussion with potential partners for the new fire station in Newhaven, as we need to appoint a building contractor.

  • Spent much of the weekend preparing for two presentations I have to make and also considering how to take forward the national learning and development agenda, where it has been agreed there needs to be a focus on underpinning facts and knowledge and not just demonstrating skills.

  • On Monday met with private sector consortium to look at implications of new tax changes when uniform and PPE will now be deemed by HMRC to be a "benefit in kind" and staff who are supplied with any sort of uniform will be liable to additional personal tax. The meeting was to see if we could use the private sector consortium to act as a third party and for staff to order what would be their own uniform and PPE directly through that company rather than ESFRS, thereby avoid any personal tax liability.

  • Meeting with senior team to consider on‑going corporate risk register and our work with the local resilience forum.

  • Went to see the NJC employers to discuss potential changes to conditions of service that have been raised by a number of Fire Rescue Services; any changes will have to go through the formal negotiating route.

  • Attended an officer training day at Uckfield, which was much more fun than being in the office. Update on BA Main Control and a TDX for a ship fire in port and also a chance to pitch ladders including a confined space drill, wearing BA and just a chance to keep our feet on the ground. I always enjoy these training events as it gives me the opportunity to meet up with other officers and also see training delivered from the perspective of a student. I also had a chance to chat with firefighters at Stn 12.

  • Prepared for a Members appeal hearing and also an opportunity to speak with the Chairman about ESFRS issues, including our medium term plan. Further discussions with the County Council, to discuss our arrangements for financial services and then meeting to discuss the Firefighters Charity and how we can continue to support their excellent work, which benefits firefighters, sport staff and their families.

This week, our Communications team has been talking to BBC TV about their programme on "Real Rescues", a good opportunity to show to a mass audience the wide range of emergency response work we do. 

Did you see the programme on "Toughest Place to be a Firefighter", with one of our West Sussex neighbours Neil Fairhall from Haywards Heath featured working in the Amazon jungle? Great programme and illustrated the fantastic work that firefighters in other parts of the world do with the most basic of kit and equipment.  

This also brings home the fantastic work of Operation Florian, which I know a number of our firefighters have been involved with in helping to support fledgling Fire and Rescue Services in the Balkans, Africa and South America.

Despite the snow and cold weather this time of the year we still see large fires in the Ashdown Forest with nine pumps responding to an incident in Nutley on 1st April; M&CC received many repeat calls but a swift response brought the blaze under control.  

Another great community open day at Uckfield fire station where firefighters put on a rescue drill and an road traffic collision exercise for local people along with providing fire safety advice and lots of toddies including the ever popular cake stall. Well done to the Uckfield wholetime and retained duty system firefighters, who supported the event and our ever willing volunteers who helped to make the day such a success. 

Finally, well done to Green Watch and other staff at Eastbourne who were involved in 'Operation Lifesavers', a great idea to promote smoke detectors and involving the local community and good luck with the children's 'fun day' this coming Sunday where I know you will put on a fantastic show for the  winners of the competition.