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.