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.