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!!!