Friday, 11 April 2014

CFO's blog 11 April 2014

My weekly blog, which has been fun to write and has tried to cover a wide range of topics, will now come to an end - like the Norwegian Blue, it will cease to exist!!! The Comms team have carried out a survey and it is clear that staff prefer other methods of communication and that the number of staff reading the blog has gone down.  So rather than flog something that has had its day, I will have to find another method for commenting on the decline of football in North London (Barnet being the exception).  I know there are a number of staff outside of the Service who also read the blog, including retired staff and I have received emails from Europe and as far afield as Australia and Brazil from people commenting on what some see as my inane ramblings, so we will have to see how we can keep them updated on ESFRS matters and I will confine my own views on football, local news, the Great British Bake Off and personal interests to outside the working environment. 

But last chance for me to comment on Chelsea's brilliant display on Tuesday which left me thinking of all those other mediocre teams that other staff so passionately follow, from the South Coast to the East End of London and right up to 'toonland' - but this year we have seen the likes of Mark Matthews and Phil Blakemore emerge from the gloom and despair of London and Manchester dominance, to suddenly be on the brink of having something to celebrate, but beware of the twin impostors of success and failure, as disappointment looms and another year of unopened silver polish beckons!!! 

My week:

* Went to Brighton Library with the Chairman, Vice Chair and other staff to talk about the Fire Authority's proposals for changes to our Service. Spoke to members of the public and handed out leaflets and questionnaires, a good opportunity to speak with all people about the Authority's plans although not the best of weather, I was impressed with Andy Reynolds just in his short sleeved shirt, whilst others had to wear their fleeces!

* Attended the IRMP Roadshow in Hastings, a similar event to the one we ran in Brighton on Friday. Again it was a good opportunity to meet up with local people and discuss our proposals for changes to the Service across the County and City. We discussed the Government reductions in our grant that means we have to save about £7million over the next 5 years and this scale of cut to our grant means we have no option other than to make changes to the way we deliver our service. We also talked about the possibility of a merger and that this was not possible as we could not find a neighbouring FRS that wanted to merge. We also talked about reductions we were making in other parts of the Service and that we had already lost a number of support service posts, but that the Fire Authority were very keen to listen to alternative views from the public about where they thought we could make this scale of savings.

* Attended the public meeting in Hastings to listen to views from local residents about the Authority's proposals currently out for consultation. This was well organised by local resident Phil Bailey with Jim Parrott from the FBU making some good points, Cllr. Earl was also in the audience listening to the debate. 

* Met with firefighters at Hove for a general update on Service planning, always useful to sit down over a cup of tea and have a chat with Crews and their JOs.

* Popped in to Lewes Fire Station where one of the firefighters told me about the plot of land we had apparently bought and about the "new fire station we were going to build", he even knew about the "deal" we had done with developers. Despite claims you can't keep anything secret these days, someone has clearly managed to keep this secret from me because I had no idea what he was talking about! What is no secret is that we would like to move away from the North Street site as it is in a floodplain and we have had a number of property speculators asking about our existing site, but we have not made any offer on an alternative site in Lewes and we have not 'done a deal' with a developer. If we do have any plans we will let staff know.

* Have now received the draft report from the Ops Assessment Peer Review Team. This report will go to the Scrutiny & Audit Panel and then be put on the internet. Review Teams have now been to about 50% of FRSs in England and the reports help individual FRSs build on their strengths and highlight any areas they should consider as well as highlighting good practice. Our report is extremely positive although, as we would expect, there are areas that we can continue to develop including staff engagement.

* Spoke with the new Chief Operating Officer at East Sussex County Council about the work they are doing with Surrey County Council and to see what opportunities we have to be involved in this work or to benefit from a much wider collaboration. We already have our primary financial services with the County and there may be opportunities to deliver efficiencies from working with a much larger organisation. 

* Met up with CFOs from other Services to look at the outcome of Sir Ken Knight's report, discussion with DCLG on flooding response, how Services were meeting their individual financial savings targets including better procurement across Services, the future role of firefighters and the potential for more closer working with Ambulance and Police.

* Attended a Sounding Board meeting of Managers from across the UK to listen to their views on how we should be taking the Service forward over the next few years, likely to be the next generation of senior leaders in the Service it was interesting to hear from them. Also discussed the political dimension and the work that is now going on by all the major political parties for their draft manifestos before next year's general election. We are meeting with MPs to talk about the FRS and to try and ensure this features in their strategic thinking. It will be interesting to see what is actually contained in the manifestos which should give an indication on future public sector spending.

* Telephone conference with a colleague in Switzerland to talk about leading and managing organisational change and the challenge of effective staff engagement.

Another of our long serving staff has now retired after 30 years in the Service - Alan Osbourne, who has been a firefighter in the Hastings area, working at both Bohemia Road and The Ridge was a popular member of our Service and we offer Alan our best wishes for the future.  

This week we saw a fantastic example of a local community fire station when over 900 people turned up at Uckfield for the Wealden 'Fun Day'. Thanks also to the support of local partners with lots of advice on child welfare, healthy eating and home safety with Crowborough firefighters from the animal rescue team also attending.  I bumped into a firefighter I used to work with when I was Station Commander at Dunstable and someone, many of you will know, Andy Gilchrist who went on to become General Secretary of the FBU. Andy and I pursued different careers with Andy now working for the RMT Union. We both have fond memories of Dunstable Fire Station with another one of our staff Graham Gray being a 'Dunstable Old Boy'. 
Well, that's it, the final blog and it couldn't be a better week to sign off than with a Chelsea win!!!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Chief's Blog 4 April 2014

This is a very interesting week - with the announcement that the rail line from Hastings through to London is now open, after many weeks of disruption due to landslides.

Yippee , great news for commuters who have had to endure a tortuous journey up to London. I have had to travel to London twice in the last few days, all disrupted, late and overcrowded.  So the announcement that there is a plan for a high speed connection from Hastings to London is absolute brilliant, and we will soon see the Javelin train taking passengers from Hastings via Ashford to London in 60 minutes.

About time, as East Sussex has one of the poorest rail and road networks in the country.  I am naturally an optimist and am really excited by the thought of high speed trains travelling across the Weald, but I am not holding my breath that this will really happen any time soon.  The energy and enthusiasm to create a high speed link now needs to turn a vision into a reality. It will also create employment locally and help economic regeneration; seems to be a 'no-brainier' to me, so let's make it happen.  

However, economic regeneration won't be helped by the ridiculous price of the new England football shirt. Ninety pounds is just silly but unfortunately parents will come under pressure to buy replica kits which, if you buy the shorts and socks, will set you back even more.  This is one issue where I hope an overseas company starts making these shirts and sells them in discount stores for £25.  This will send out a message to the Football Association to treat the fans with a bit more respect.

My week:

  • Met with Greg Barker, local MP for Battle & Bexhill to talk about the Service transformation proposals and also to lobby for changes to Council Tax limits, to allow Fire Authorities to be transparent in the actual increase they are seeking rather than having a percentage increase. Previously we have asked Government for permission to raise Council Tax by a maximum of £5 for each household per year but we have not been successful.
  • Attended a further meeting of the pensions committee where we looked at how the new pension scheme would be administered, the process for advising the Government on how the scheme operated and how the future cost of the scheme would be managed; also still seeking agreement on future employee contribution rates.
  • We had a retirement function at HQ for one of our longest serving staff; Richard Charman, Director of Financial Services who retired on Monday after 44 years in local government, the last 30 years with ESFRS. Richard has been a fantastic member of our team with his knowledge and experience helping to ensure the Service has remained financially sustainable in some very tough times and we offer him our best wishes for the future.  His many friends and colleagues had a collection and bought him a jumbo bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which Richard said was definitely not for sharing!  Another great friend Bruce Hoad left this week, Bruce who worked in ESFRS for many years before moving to Northants FRS and retiring as Deputy Chief Fire Officer has been doing some work for us on a part-time basis but has finally decided that looking after his sheep is now his priority. We have benefited greatly from Bruce's experience and I know he will still be working with Operation Florian and competing with Geoff Wicks to see who has the largest collection of 'old stuff'. Between the two of them they could probably run the fire service and army in one of the smaller European counties!
  • The Shadow Fire Minister Lyn Brown came down to HQ to meet with me and Cllr. Howson to discuss ESFRS, how we were managing with the cuts to our budget and what were our views on Sir Ken Knight's report.  Lyn was interested in the proposal by Sir Ken to reduce wholetime staff and increase RDS. Lyn has also been to see how a single service is running in Scotland and whether this could work in England. We discussed future funding for the Service and the clear indications I picked up was that if there is a change of Government following next year’s general election we could not expect to see any more money for the FRS and that we needed to look at all ways to make savings.
  • Went to meeting in London where I met representatives from Airwave who are looking at incident command communications for the emergency services and what we would like from the system. I talked about the cost of the current Airwave system and the lack of flexibility in how we can use the handheld units and that the pricing structure was too rigid. I then met Steria who build mobilising and control systems for the Police and are looking at future integrations for police, fire and ambulance.
  • Met with CFOs from the South East Region to discuss the work we are involved in on national operational guidance and standard operations procedures. Thanks to all our team involved in this work, particularly Scott Saunders as we now have 24 FRSs, as part of a partnership where we will all be working to standard procedures and guidance, and have common training packages. This will improve firefighter safety, ensure effective cross-border working and drive efficiencies and savings.
  • We looked at a recent report on procurement and how we can do this much more cost effectively. We also looked at how we introduce new operational equipment and that there was no need for each service to run its own pilot or trial to see if equipment is suitable. If one FRS looked at new ladders, TICs or cutting equipment for example, then we should use the outcome of that trial and if it is satisfactory, we can then purchase off a framework contract which will save time and money.
  • Attended the HR/L&OD Conference which had delegates from more than 40 FRSs; lots of information on employment law, TUPE, discussion on e-cigarettes, Fire Professional Framework and excellent guest speaker Adrian Webster. I would suggest that youtake a look at his YouTube videos to give you a flavour of his take on leadership. Also, interesting presentations from Dr. Tony Williams on his report into fitness and Sean Starbuck from the FBU talking about the trade union view on normal pension age, fitness of firefighters and the ability to maintain fitness as you get older.
  • Spoke with the Fire Service College about their changes to training delivery and how they are reducing the length of some of their programmes through better use of e-learning. Also, discussed how they are ensuring all their programmes are linked to national occupational standards. The College is also a great place to work and offer secondments to staff from across the FRS. Currently Greg Lee is seconded to the college, now a key part of their team and as Greg would be the first to say, ' it is a fantastic personal development opportunity'. One of the messages from the conference this week was that you should recognise that many of your staff go that extra mile every day they come to work and really make a difference.  One person I know who always did more than we ever paid her for has just left as she was employed as a temp but this did not stop her coming into work every day and being brilliant at what she did.  So can I say thank you to Silvia Gromer who was one of our reception staff at HQ, always smiling, always welcoming and a great example of exceptional customer service. 

Thanks also to firefighters and other staff at Preston Circus who raised £3,857 for the Fire Fighters Charity over the Christmas period and were the top fire station in the whole of the South East Region, brilliant effort.  Good luck to Ryan Garnham and any other staff who are running in the Brighton Marathon this weekend, Ryan is running in aid of Cancer Research. Ashley Jones from Green Watch Roedean is organising a football match later the year in aid of the Connor Saunders Foundation; Stuart Anderson from Red Watch Preston Circus in looking to revive the once very successful ESFRS football team so if you want to get involved then Stuart would be delighted to hear from you. Well done to all of these members of staff who are doing that bit extra.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Chief's blog 28th March

Terrible news this week with the Malaysian Authorities announcing that flight MH370 has been lost with all those on board pronounced as having lost their lives, but the grieving families still wait for confirmation that the plane has been found.  In this world of ultramodern technology, it does seem surprising that the best equipped nations in the world cannot find the missing plane or those who were on board. 

The extreme weather in the USA has resulted in tragic scenes following the mudslide in Oso, Washington State where 24 people are now confirmed dead and with more than 150 people still unaccounted for.  The local Fire Chief Travis Hots has spoken about the difficult scenes his firefighters and other rescuers have faced, but they will work every hour until every person has been found.  Sadly, we also heard that two of our family of firefighters have died at the scene of a warehouse fire at Back Bay, Boston. Firefighter Michael Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh, part of the first responding crew were pronounced dead at the scene after being rescued from the basement area by other firefighters.  Not a great week of news and I would like to offer my condolences and sympathies to those who are grieving for lost loved ones.

My week:

  • Meeting with PO team to discuss Sussex Control Centre and resilience arrangements. Great work by all the team involved in moving forward what is a major and complex project and also thanks to all our staff in Chichester and Eastbourne for their continuing professionalism through what has been a difficult, and at times, stressful project. Also discussed the development of our IT systems which are crucial for business needs, and the options we have for ensuring our systems meet our future needs.
  • Discussed with Liz Ridley, our Head of Performance Management, the key service indicators we will be monitoring and measuring, alongside key targets to reduce operational response interventions and increase and expand our prevention work in local communities to do all we can to improve safety and community wellbeing.
  • Met with Chief Fire & Rescue Advisor and DCLG officials to discuss the research work by the University of Bath on firefighter fitness standards. This is now nearing conclusion and there is a lot of interest in this work, not only in the UK but also from North America and Japan. The work undertaken to date is extremely comprehensive and robust and will provide clear evidence-based standards for firefighter fitness.
  • Attended a national pensions meeting where we looked at the DCLG’s proposals on contribution rates for the 2015 scheme and the options for those going directly into the 2015 scheme or moving across from the 1992 or 2006 schemes. Also, considered the requirement from HMRC for the new scheme to deliver an average of 13.2% contributions from all members with those on higher salaries paying a higher level of contribution.
  •  Went to Service Training Centre for the quarterly Officer's training day. I am always impressed by the standard of instruction when I go to STC and by the enthusiasm of the staff. I would always recommend STC as a place to work and I have very fond memories of my time as an instructor (although it was a few years ago). Working at a training centre is very demanding, there is little free time and staff often start early and finish late, but it is a very rewarding environment to work in and I would like to say thanks to all of our instructors and those who are seconded to STC for the invaluable contribution you make to ESFRS. It was also good to meet up with West Sussex colleagues who gave a helpful presentation on terrorist attacks and the team they have in WSFRS to respond to terrorist and marauding fire arms incidents.
  • Went across to Rye to see Andy Polley and his crew. It’s always a pleasure to visit Rye, one of the nicest towns in our County. Andy and his crew are always keen to talk about the Service and provide excellent cover as well as a fine selection of biscuits to go with the tea! I also had the pleasure and privilege to speak to Alec Tiltman and David Giles, two firefighters at Rye who were attending their last drill nights as they were retiring. Alec and David have both served for over 31 years, an absolutely incredible achievement. I am always very impressed when I meet wholetime firefighters who have served for 30 years, but to complete more than 30 years as an RDS firefighter is just fantastic and I cannot speak highly enough about our RDS staff who give such commitment to their local community and our Service. Our very best wishes to both Alec and David and thank you for being part of our team and doing so much for public safety.
  • Met up with colleagues from Sussex and Surrey Police, Surrey and West Sussex FRSs and SECAmb at what is the 'Blue Light Transformation Meeting'. There is a pilot project to introduce technology that will speed up the communication between blue light responders and better data sharing to reduce nuisance callers. There is also work going on to see how we can better care for people with mental health problems, which is causing an increasing strain on ambulance and police resources and to see how the FRS can become more involved in supporting public health in local communities.
  • Had a meeting with other senior colleagues to look at the DCLG report on procurement and to see how we can be more efficient in purchasing everything from appliances and equipment to energy, IT and training. We also looked at research into compartment firefighting and the health effects on trainers, how we can become more involved in fitting carbon monoxide detectors and supporting private sector landlords to make premises safer.
  •  Discussed with the Chairman the current consultation on Service transformation and the public meetings we are attending. The key message from the Fire Authority is that the proposals are to ensure we continue to provide our services across the County and City and that if savings are not taken in one area, then additional savings will have to be made elsewhere. The Authority want to ensure the public know that the savings have to be made due to the reduction in Government grant and not that the Fire Authority are reducing their budget.

Congratulations to our new RDS recruits who completed their trainee programme at Maresfield on Friday. I know they have worked hard under the experienced eyes of our instructors and are now ready to join their stations and become part of our great team here in ESFRS. Good luck to all of you and if you are ever in need of inspiration, look no further than Alec Tiltman and David Giles who have just completed more than 31 years serving their local community in Rye and across the County. 

I’d also like to mention another member of the team here in ESFRS who will be retiring at the end of the month.  Richard Charman our Director of Financial Services will be leaving after more than 44 years in the public sector, joining East Sussex County Council in 1970 and the Fire & Rescue Service over 30 years ago.  Richard will be a very hard act to replace, a truly dedicated public servant and an absolute stalwart of ESFRS. On a personal note, I will be very sorry to lose a kind friend and colleague. We have benefited from Richard's knowledge and experience and that is one of the reasons why we have managed to weather many of the financial pressures other Services had already had to deal with.  

This weekend, ESFRS is supporting the Fire Kills - Tick, Tock, Test Campaign to ensure people test their smoke alarms over the weekend when they change their clocks. We have had fantastic success over the past decade in reducing the number of house fires as a result of our home safety visits, we have prevented injuries and certainly we have saved lives through fitting smoke detectors. Our work over the next few years will hopefully include fitting carbon monoxide detectors as well as there is a lot of work being coordinated with major utilities and Carbon Monoxide Awareness. Safety of our communities is our number one priority and all our staff should be very proud of their community safety work.

Finally, can I congratulate Mark Hobbs for a notable first this week  when he grabbed my attention whilst I was training in the gym at HQ and Mark was bashing out the miles next to me. When I train I don’t talk to anyone, I just get on with my training but Mark managed to talk to me for 30 minutes on fire safety regulation, enforcement and a presentation he has recently made, which was very interesting and informative!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Chief's Blog 21st March

This week much news coverage has been devoted to the Malaysian airliner that has disappeared without trace. This must be a hugely stressful time for the families of all who were on the plane, but it does seem rather odd that with all the technology we have at our disposal, sadly the plane's whereabouts remains unknown.  

The death of Tony Benn a few days ago marked the end of one of the great political characters of the 20th century; a great orator and diarist. Benn was one of the last links with the development of much of the public sector that we know today; a passionate speaker, he was someone who both my parents identified with for his socialist principles.  This week we have seen all political parties comment on the budget speech delivered by George Osbourne; it looks like we're in for a year of pre-election speeches and manifesto promises; I think I'm tired already!

Fire Minister Brandon Lewis spoke at the LGA Conference and again stated that Government will not merge any Fire & Rescue Services and will not interfere in local decision-making. They believe it is for local politicians to set out how their local FRS will operate, that there will be no additional funding and that he is confident service transformation will take place that will deliver both the necessary savings and a high performing service. Collaborations with Police and Ambulance Services is very much the Government's  thinking alongside better procurement and making better use of RDS staff. 

This week's budget speech by the Chancellor has as usual, received mixed reviews, and the news on the economy is very positive. However, one key message is that the cuts to public sector spending will continue and our current savings targets will still have to be met.  We will also have a new one pound coin, based very much on the old three pence piece, known as the 'threepenny bit'. Our pre decimalisation coinage seemed to have much more character than the money we have today; I can just about remember the farthing and the 'ha’penny’', then we had the penny, the 'tanner', the 'bob', 'arf a crown' and the 'ten bob note' and if you were really lucky, you might see a 'quid'.  Money is all so dull now, so looking forward to seeing the new one pound coin and to see if it gets a nickname.

My week:

  • Catch up with Chairman after the LGA Fire Conference; East Sussex will be organising a conference for the Combined Fire Authorities in October where members want to discuss funding, collaborations, closer integration with Ambulance Services and resilience. Also seeking to have a clear vision for the fire & rescue sector and to be more influential on government policy.
  •  Liaising with the blood transfusion service to see how FRSs can assist support blood and organ donation; looking at how we can work with local collection teams at open days and whether we can use fire stations as blood donation centres.Met with the Fire Service College to look at how they design training programmes, the link to national occupational standards, training and competence of instructors and a quality assurance process; the College are looking to provide training directly for local FRSs and have already put a lot of new investment into the College site at Moreton. It is in all our interests for the College to be successful and to provide high quality training for FRS personnel at a cost that recognises the financial pressures we face.
  •  Went to see students on the Executive Leadership Programme (ELP) and spoke to them about personal resilience, the challenges that face senior leaders and my own personal experiences of working with elected members, trade unions and the media and how this can affect you both at work and at home. The ELP students will be leading the Service over the next few years and part of the programme is to raise their awareness and understanding of the role.
  •  Gave a presentation to senior officers from across the UK to update them on occupational health and fitness, national occupational standards, the review of the ASPIRE leadership model, conditions of service, cross sector leadership, employee relations issues and work with Skills for Justice. HR and Organisational development will play a significant role as FRSs continue to move towards different models of service deliver; a number of FRSs are now responding to significant numbers of ambulance calls, either as co or first responders with others working more closely with Police Services. The Government's response to Sir Ken Knight's report is about to be published and it will be interesting to see their expectations of our Service in light of Sir Ken's comments.
  •  Discussion with finance colleagues on implications of Chancellor's budget statement; will need further time to look at implications but continuing pressure on public sector costs. Lots of encouragement for future growth with the High Speed 2 train at the centre of economic regeneration.
  •  Was at Ashridge Management College with NHS colleagues; earlier this week it was announced that blood supplies particularly of O- and B- were at low levels and the NHS are encouraging new donors to come forward particularly from some community groups where traditionally, blood and organ donation is low. ESFRS have run a number of community initiatives encouraging people to become blood and organ donors and hopefully as we start our community open days, we can get more people to sign up and help to save a life.

Over the last two weekends, crews from across ESFRS have been out raising funds for the Firefighters Charity with car washes at a number of our community fire stations. A big thank you to everyone who took part and helped out, with all the funds raised being put to great use.  I hope that none of our staff have to call on the Firefighters Charity, but it is inevitable that some of us will. The Charity has some fantastic facilities and absolutely brilliant staff with a team of dedicated physiotherapists who will really put you through a regime that is not for the faint hearted - but just talk to anyone who has been treated by the Charity and they will only sing their praises; and the facilities can also be accessed by your family, so once again, many thanks for your fund raising and your support for our Charity.

Earlier this week, we saw the perfect illustration of how prevention can save lives following a serious fire at a property in Saltdean; firefighters from Roedean and Preston Circus were called out to a house fire in the early hours of Monday morning; on arrival crews found smoke issuing with a severe fire that had started in the kitchen and then spread, smoke logging the property. Fortunately the family who had been inside the house were standing outside having been woken by the smoke alarm.  Firefighters wearing BA and using two hosereels, entered the property to extinguish the fire, also rescuing the family's pets.  Crew Commander Andy  Cornford said that there was no doubt that having a working smoke alarm had saved lives due to the nature of the fire, and the way it had quickly spread through the property.  The community safety work we have been carrying out over the past decade has undoubtedly driven down the number of fires across East Sussex and the City and fitting smoke detectors has given householders an early warning of fire. We must continue to look at innovative ways and work with partners to continue this work and also look at opportunities to support other organisations to make out communities safer.

City crews responded to another domestic fire in Kemp Town during the early hours of Thursday with reports of children at a window with smoke issuing. Fortunately, by the time crews arrived everyone had got out of the building safely although three children were treated for the effects of smoke inhalation. The fire had started in a first floor bathroom and was believed to have been caused by a candle; the property did not have any smoke alarms and Crew Commander Will Marler commented how important it was for every home to be fitted with working smoke alarms and that it was extremely fortunate that everyone had managed to get out of the building without any serious injuries.  C.C. Marler also stressed the importance of having smoke alarms on every floor as they provide an early warning if a fire breaks out, and give you valuable time and increase your chance of getting out safely and went on to say that candles should always be placed in an appropriate holder and should be extinguished before you go to bed or if you leave the property.