Friday, 7 February 2014

CFO's blog 7 Feb 2014

It is a bit of a British obsession to talk about the weather but it continues to dominate the news for very good reasons. Our crews across the county have been responding to many weather-related incidents. The storms and high seas have caused a lot of damage along the coast with a large section of the cliff falling into the sea at Birling Gap. 

On Thursday our very own Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, took over whilst Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is in hospital, with Eric now co-ordinating the response to the current situation.  Whilst we have had our fair share of rain in the South-East, it is the South West and parts of West Wales that has taken a real battering, and as for the community on the Somerset Levels, they have had to endure flooded properties and roads for more than six weeks.  Devon & Somerset FRS and other community responders have done a fantastic job, but I am sure many lessons will have been learnt, and I remain unconvinced that you can co-ordinate the response from a basement in Whitehall.  There seems to me to be a compelling argument for one organisation to have overall responsibility for organising and co-ordinating the response on the ground, and to have the authority if necessary to bring in military support without going through the labyrinth of government departments for permission.  I await the report into the 2013/14 flooding with interest.  

With more severe weather expected this weekend, the likelihood of an early display of daffodils is receding, so the Welsh rugby fans travelling this week to Dublin will have to make do with a bunch of leeks.  We also have the Winter Olympics to look forward to with Team GB expected to take home a few medals; with all this rain I am very envious of the snow over in Russia, but will have to content myself with being an armchair viewer for the next fortnight.

We also had industrial action in the headlines with the RMT striking on the London Underground. Advances in technology are reducing jobs, with Transport for London moving away from ticket offices and to machines. I can understand the business rationale, but there is still something reassuring about having a person to speak to when you need an answer.  And even at that most magical of places, Stamford Bridge where you used to hand your ticket into 'Bert' at the turnstile, Chelsea introduced automatic turnstiles some years ago. However, at each turnstile there are now two people to help you make sure you put your ticket in the right way round or scan the barcode correctly, so not much saving there!  Quite clearly, 'Bert' was more cost effective, and for ten bob he would let you nip over the turnstile; the machines just don't get the false economy!

Brilliant TV on Monday evening as a bunch of sky blue, (some would say) overpaid and overrated players were put firmly in their place by the cool dudes from South West London. Poetry in motion and not a peep from Arsenal who has just realised another trophy-less  season is on the cards.

My week:

* Met with Chairman and Vice Chair ahead of the Fire Authority meeting next week along with the Treasurer and legal advisor. We have some tough decisions ahead as we look to balance the needs of the community with a drop in funding from Government. 

* Met with ESFA Auditors Ernst & Young who are finalising their audit report for the Fire Authority and also looking at how we are making plans for the financial challenges over the next two years. They have been impressed with the work of the Service in managing our budgets and containing costs and looking at opportunities to deliver savings, keep costs down and improve procurement; well done to everyone.

*. It has been a busy couple of weeks coaching as I met with a senior clinician from the NHS who wanted to talk through the issues of managing conflict in teams and how to keep a major project on track when some people are promoting different agendas.

*. Visited Haywards Heath for a meeting with POs; saw Peter Fishenden who was in need of a cup of tea and a choccy biscuit! The team are doing great work at the new Sussex Control Centre.  Met with the Joint Oversight Group involving politicians and senior officers. We report to the elected members of ESFA and WSCC on a quarterly basis to update then on the progress of work and they are keen to look at wider work with Surrey FRS, Sussex and Surrey Police and SECAmb.

* Telephone conference call with a colleague from Zurich who works for a multi-national insurance company. We discussed leadership in the private and public sector, managing change and how you continue to support your staff in very challenging circumstances.

*BA refresher at STC, thanks to Brin and Craig for coming in for a very early start and for setting up a good exercise to assess BA procedures, door opening, hose management, search and rescue, casualty evacuation and use of the thermal imaging camera. Also, thanks to my partner, good gauge checks; please to say we got the 'thumbs up'!! Great sausage sandwich in the mess as well!

*Prepared for a meeting later this week with Chief Executive of County Council where we are considering emergency planning, sharing buildings and services and also how we can provide further support to community safety. There is now an opportunity for ESFRS personnel to use their knowledge, skills and reputation to not only improve fire and road safety, but also to get more involved in the healthcare agenda when we are out in the community, and supporting and advising on the challenge of obesity, diabetes and drink and drug abuse which are putting an intolerable strain on health budgets. Firefighters and CFS staff are already getting involved in some of this work and we can now look at further opportunities to work with the County Council on local healthcare issues.

*Had meeting with external group including DCLG, NJC employers and National Equality & Inclusion lead. We had update on pension discussions, Bath University research on fitness standards, cross sector leadership, proposals for enhancements to redundancy payments, developments of standards and qualifications for fire safety professionals and Fire & Rescue services complying with the equality framework.

* Met with colleagues from two other FRSs who are working on what they describe as a 'strategic alliance' which could lead to a merger; they were very keen to learn from our work on a merger with WSFRS, political engagement, equalisation of Council Tax, support from government and how savings can be achieved.

*Quarterly negotiating meeting with FBU to discuss budget proposals, absence management, Sussex Control Project and industrial dispute; these are always helpful meetings and provide an opportunity for open dialogue.

*Had meeting at HQ with Asian Fire Services Association and researcher from Middlesex University to look at equality and inclusion in the FRS and how the culture has improved over the past decades. Discussed implications for the NHS after the report into failings in Mid-Staffs NHS Trust and lessons we can learn about the service we deliver to local people.

This week I also drove down to Gloucester to see our old colleague Jon Hall at his retirement function. There was a great turnout for Jon with a few from ESFRS enjoying the evening and listening to Nick Greenwood (ex-Preston Circus) talk about Jon's time on Red Watch, pitching a ladder upside down and the infamous 'it's only steam' informative message which became a 'six pumper'; lots of tales about KFC which seems to be a staple diet for Jon, Billy Brewster and Richard Charman (although never, never send Tony Gurr out to get a KFC) and chicken dippers in the Draeger Board Room.

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service