Minutes of Meeting of The Highland and Islands Fire Board held in the Council Chamber, Highland Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness on Friday, 26 November 2010 at 9.30 a.m.
Representing the Highland Council:
Mrs L Munro, Mr D Mackay, Mr D Flear, Mrs I Campbell, Dr A Sinclair, Ms M Smith, Mr R Durham, Mrs M Paterson
Representing Comhairle nan Eilean Siar:
Mr N M Macleod
Mr P Carlin
Representing Orkney Islands Council:
Mr A Drever
Representing Shetland Islands Council:
Mr A Duncan, Mr E Hunter, Mrs H Carmichael, Mrs P Munro, Mr F Parr, Mr D Henderson, Mr J Ford, Mr R Balfour, Mr D Fallows, Mr C Nicolson, Mr I MacKenzie, Mr B Leslie, Mr A Cooper
Officials in attendance:
Mr D Wynne, Chief Fire Officer
Mr T Johnson, Deputy Chief Fire Officer
Mr M Holme, Assistant Chief Fire Officer
Mr M Jenks, Head of Corporate Services, Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS)
Mr A MacLeod, Property Manager, HIFRS
Mr J Kelman, Project Manager, Housing and Property Service, The Highland Council
Mr D Robertson, Treasurer’s Office
Ms M Morris, Clerk
Mrs R Moir, Assistant Clerk
Ms L Lee, Clerk’s Office
Mr S Taylor, Clerk’s Office
Mr R Durham in the Chair
The Board AGREED:
i. that a pilot webcast be carried out for the meeting, but not broadcast live;
ii. if the pilot was successful, subsequent meetings be broadcast live and
archived on the Highland Council’s website for 12 months.
2. Apologies for Absence
There were no apologies for absence.
3. Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
4. Board Membership Update
The Board NOTED formally the following change in Highland Council appointments to the Board:
Substantive Member: Mr F Parr (replacing Mr J Gray).
The Board AGREED to appoint Mr Parr to the Best Value and Audit Working Group, to replace Mr Gray on that Group.
5. Minutes of Meeting of 7 September 2010
There had been circulated the Minutes of Meeting of 7 September 2010.
The Board APPROVED the Minutes as a correct record, subject to amendment at item 14i to read “The new district arrangements saw the reorganisation of the Service into four operational areas”.
6. Minutes of Best Value and Audit Working Group 5 November 2010
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Best Value and Audit Working Group held on 5 November 2010, together with a number of reports relating to items discussed at that meeting, as follows:
i. Spending Review 2011-14 Update
Further to a series of reports submitted to the Best Value and Audit Working Group on the spending review, there had been circulated Report No. Fire-43-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which provided Members with further information on the efficiencies plan and strategy, including the progress made on the National Fire Spending Review Strategy. Report BVA12/10, previously circulated to the Best Value and Audit Working Group on 5 November 2010, had been re-circulated as Appendix 1 to the report.
The Board NOTED the report and the progress made on the National Fire Spending Review Strategy and AGREED:
i. to adopt the revised efficiencies plan for the 2011/12 budget; and
ii. to receive further reports on options and actions to be taken to reflect
2012/13 savings targets and beyond.
ii. Efficiency Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-44-10 dated 18 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which set out the latest funding assumptions that the Service had adopted in preparation for the 2011/12 and 2012/13 budgets and the efficiencies that the Service had identified to date in support of the 2011/12 budget, together with the options it was exploring.
The budget for 2011/12 had now been set at £582,000 below the current year’s budget. The report identified total savings of £771,000, i.e. £189,000 more than the sum required. The Chief Fire Officer explained that, as it was intended that any surplus at the end of 2012 would be returned to reserves, all the savings measures identified for 2011/12 would be implemented. An increase in the reserve limit that the Board was permitted to hold was being sought from the Government (item 9 below refers).
In response to points raised, Members were informed that:
- Long Service and Good Conduct Awards had been phased out as part of a national agreement
- reductions in loan charges were due to low interest rates and repayments of capital loans – continued savings in this regard had been forecast for the coming 5 years
- formal agreement had not yet been reached for pay of uniformed employees for 2010/11 or 2011/12, although a zero settlement for 2010/11 was expected.
Members having expressed the view that it would be beneficial to formally recognise outstanding achievement by personnel, the Board NOTED:
i. the revised assumptions that the Service had adopted in preparation for
the 2011/12 and 2012/12 budgets;
ii. the efficiencies that had been identified to date in support of the 2011/12
iii. that the Chief Fire Officer would update Members on the 2010/11 pay
settlement for uniformed employees as soon as an agreement had been
iii. Capital Programme 2011-14
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-45-10 dated 15 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which set out the latest capital funding assumptions that the Service had adopted in preparation for the 2011/12 budget and also detailed the efficiencies that the Service had identified and the options it was exploring. Appendix 1 to the report comprised a Briefing Report previously submitted to the Chief Fire Officers’ Association Scotland (CFOAS) containing recommendations as to how Capital Grant should be distributed in future years, including that Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS) be allocated £500,000 per annum in order to progress its retained station build programme. The Best Value and Audit Working Group had considered this report at their meeting on 5 November 2010 and had supported the recommendations contained therein. Appendix 2 to the report set out a draft letter from HIFRS to the Scottish Government advising that HIFRS would not be seeking any additional top-slice funding beyond that recommended in the CFOAS briefing report.
The Chief Fire Officer advised that, at the time of writing the report, a reduction of 48% in capital funding had been anticipated over the coming 4 years. He drew attention to the main points of the report, including that, whilst the Board had benefited from top-slice funding over recent years, 35 fire stations remained in need of major investment. It was hoped that the recommendations as set out in Appendix 1 would be supported by Ministers. An announcement on future capital programme grant was expected at the Ministerial Advisory Group meeting on 6 December 2010.
The Board NOTED the approach the Service was taking in preparation for the 2011-14 capital programme and APPROVED the recommendation not to bid for any additional top slice funding in 2011/12 over and above that recommended in the report to Conveners.
iv. Single Status
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-46-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which recommended that, whilst the Service currently had a business plan commitment to complete the Single Status programme by October 2011, the Board approve the suspension of the Single Status programme, subject to a review in 12 months time, and to the development of a re-grading process to allow staff to address any perceived unfairness in the pay structure. The Best Value and Audit Working Group had considered this proposal on 5 November 2010 and supported these recommendations.
Reassurance having been given that the Board would not incur penalties as a result of deferring implementation of Single Status, the Board APPROVED the suspension of the Single Status Programme and AGREED that:
i. this decision be reviewed in light of developments in the national situation
and a report resubmitted to the Board at the earliest possible date, and in
any event within 12 months; and
ii. as an interim, to allow staff to address any perceived unfairness in the pay
structure, the Service consider any potential re-grading utilising existing
processes such as job evaluation.
v. Audit of Best Value in Fire and Rescue Authorities and Services
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-47-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer on an Accounts Commission consultation seeking views by 3 December 2010 on three options for the future Best Value Audit arrangements for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The report recommended that the Board support a fourth option that had been drawn up by the Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland and that reflected the current challenges facing Fire Boards and Services. The Best Value and Audit Working Group had considered this proposal on 5 November 2010 and had supported this recommendation.
The Board AGREED to support option 4 as set out in the report, being their preferred option for Best Value Audits of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services, with option 3 as their fall back option, if option 4 was not accepted by the Accounts Commission.
Thereafter, the Board otherwise APPROVED the Minutes of the Best Value and Audit Working Group held on 5 November 2010, subject to discussion at item 9 below.
7. Minutes of Service Improvement Working Group 5 November 2010
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Service Improvement Working Group held on 5 November 2010. There had also been circulated/re-circulated a number of reports relating to items discussed at that meeting, as follows:
i. Automatic Fire Alarm Attendance / Reduction Policy
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-48-10 dated 15 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which recommended that the Board agree to extend the Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) Strategy across the Service to include all Low, Medium and High risk premises as identified in the Stage 2 proposals detailed, and to consider the Stage 3 proposals also set out. The Service Improvement Working Group had considered this matter on 5 November 2010 and had supported this recommendation.
The Deputy Chief Fire Officer drew attention to the costs and risks involved in responding to the increasing number of AFA false alarms, and the success of the reduced AFA response pilot scheme. Members were advised that: (i) where there was a genuine fire, back-up calls were normally received, and (ii) the proposals took account of the geography of an area – the policy would be applied as appropriate to local risk.
Members expressed the view that the proposals would only be acceptable if premises holders had been apprised of the change in policy, and full risk assessments carried out, particularly where there was a sleeping risk (e.g. hospitals, houses in multiple occupancy). Where a fire was genuine, speed of response could be critical. The Chief Fire Officer gave an assurance that there would be full risk assessments, and that the revised policy could be implemented safely.
In response to concerns raised regarding mixed use buildings (e.g. town centre shops with flats above), the Chief Fire Officer explained that a Risk Assessment Template would be developed to take account of such circumstances and that this would consider building design as well as occupancy patterns.
The Chief Fire Officer also undertook to investigate possibilities with regard to linking smoke detectors in residential properties to automatic alarm systems.
The Board AGREED:
i. that the AFA strategy be extended across the Service to include Low,
Medium and High risk premises as identified in Stage 2, proposals 1, 2 and
ii. the following measures to support the effective roll-out of the proposal:
- development of a suitable risk assessment process to ensure that local identification of premises to be excepted could be achieved
- wide communication of the strategy to ensure businesses were aware of the AFA response to be adopted.
The Board NOTED Stage 3, proposals 4 and 5, as set out in the report, for future consideration.
ii. Scottish Fire and Rescue Services Reform
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-49-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which advised that, in September 2010, the Community Safety Minister had announced that a working group was to be established to consider medium to long term savings from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, relative to the Spending Review 2011-14. The terms of reference for this group included the intention to identify and begin to appraise the options and structures for the Service that would best deliver such savings, set against defined principles and outcomes.
As previously advised to Board Members, the Scottish Fire Conveners Forum had established a National Strategy that sought to support each Fire Board’s efficiency planning arrangements over the next 4 years. This strategy also included the potential to reform the Service over the same period.
In recognising the clear parallel interests of both approaches, the circulated report invited Members to consider the Board’s preferred direction of travel, as the reform agenda unfolded.
In view of the far-reaching implications of structural reform, and the speed at which matters were progressing at the national level, an informal seminar had been held the previous evening to provide Members with an overview of the current position. Members welcomed the information this had provided in preparation for the Board meeting.
The Chief Fire Officer explained that, following the Minister’s announcement, the Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG) had set up a Sub-Group, whose task was to look into medium to long term savings for both Police and Fire Services in Scotland. Over a period of 3 weeks, the Sub-Group had met three times to consider options for Fire and Rescue Services and had produced a lengthy initial draft paper of more than 140 pages. An interim report, which was expected to put forward 2 or 3 options as to the future structure of the Fire and Rescue Service in Scotland, would be presented to the MAG on 6 December 2010 and then be released for consultation. In order to try to influence the content of the interim report, the Chief Fire Officer recommended that the Board agree a position as to outcomes it would wish to see delivered by reform, and that this be forwarded to the MAG prior to 6 December. He also reminded Members of the work being carried out by the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services, chaired by Dr Campbell Christie (the Christie Commission), which was due to report in the summer of 2011. It was as yet unclear how the MAG deliberations might feed into this.
The Chief Fire Officer then drew attention to the proposal from the Highland Public Services Partnership (HPSP) for a single “blue light” service for the Highlands and Islands. This was not being considered by the MAG Sub-Group, as its remit was to look at the Fire and Rescue Service in isolation. To take the HPSP proposals forward, he suggested that the Board might wish to agree that he and the Convener work with the four Community Planning Partnerships to scope out the proposals more fully, with a view to feeding in to the Christie Commission review. In answer to a point raised, Members were advised that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency had not been included in the single “blue light” proposals as it was administered on a UK-wide basis.
Comments made in discussion included that:
- whilst the review process provided the opportunity to find ways to improve service delivery, it could also open the way for increased centralisation; this was not likely to be of benefit to the Highlands and Islands, particularly in terms of local accountability and jobs; it was felt that the Civil Service had long aspired to put in place a single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
- insufficient information had been provided as to the implications and costs of any particular structural model; a view on specific models could not therefore be taken at this stage
- a single Service in Scotland could be acceptable if there were, for example, regional committees – the details of proposals were not yet known and judgement should be reserved meantime
- the Board should establish a position statement including core criteria against which any forthcoming proposals would be evaluated
- the single “blue light” service had potential to improve emergency service responses in the Highlands and Islands and should be investigated
- bringing Health and Local authority bodies together via Community Planning Partnerships might prove difficult to achieve before summer 2011 – political focus would be required
- restructuring in Wales, where 8 Services had been reduced to 3, had taken a long time to bed in – feedback from the Welsh experience might be useful
- in responding to the consultation, the Islands’ perspective must not be overlooked
- the decisions being made as to the future structure of the Scottish Fire Service would be very far-reaching – information and time must be provided if the best outcomes were to be obtained.
The Convener welcomed the Board’s positive attitude to discussing the change agenda. He expressed concern at the speed at which matters were being progressed by the Government and concurred with the Board’s view that a position statement should be established. He undertook to relate the Board’s views to the MAG on 6 December and requested that Members keep their respective constituent authorities informed of developments.
After discussion, the Board AGREED that:
i. the Board’s position in discussions on any future model of delivery of Fire
Services in the Highlands and Islands, including at the Ministerial Advisory
Group meeting to be held on 6 December 2010, must be founded on the
- there must be no decrease in the quality of Fire and Rescue Services in the Highlands and Islands
- any change in model must lead to clear and demonstrable improvements, efficiencies and cost savings
- there must be no decrease in local democratic accountability in the Highlands and Islands, to ensure account was taken of the special circumstances and interests of the area
- the consultation process must allow reasonable timescales
- the case for change must be focussed on outcomes and be fully evidenced on the basis of empirical data;
ii. the Chief Fire Officer and the Convener work with the four Community
Planning Partnerships to scope an Outline Business Case for a single blue
light service for the Highlands and Islands, as recently put forward by the
Highland Council and the Highland Public Services Partnership (HPSP), to
feed into the Christie Commission report, due for publication in Summer
2011; and that report SIWG6/10, containing information on HPSP’s initial
proposals, be emailed to all Members for information;
iii. should a consultation document on options for a future model of the FRS
in Scotland be issued, the Board respond fully to all the options set out
therein, it being important for the Board to have had input into whichever
option was ultimately chosen; and
iv. the Service Improvement Working Group’s remit be extended to include
progression of the Board’s response to proposed changes to the structure
of Fire and Rescue Services in Scotland, should this be required outwith
the Board’s meetings timetable.
iii. IRMP Risk Review
There had been re-circulated Report No SIWG-7-10 dated 26 October 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer identifying additional units presenting sustainability issues and presenting recommendations appertaining to these units.
The Board AGREED the recommendations as set out in the report and supported by the Service Improvement Working Group, namely that:
i. the Berneray and Portmahomack Community Response Units be disbanded
due to lack of members;
ii. in both locations, all current and future requests for home fire safety
checks and community fire safety activities be performed by personnel from
adjacent stations and the dedicated Western Isles/Easter Ross based
Community Fire Safety Advocates respectively; and
iii. in both locations, the Community Risk Management department continue
to review the wildfire risk associated with the service area as part of the
ongoing Risk Review process.
Thereafter, the Board otherwise APPROVED the Minutes of the Service Improvement Working Group held on 5 November 2010.
8. Revenue Expenditure 2010/11 Monitoring Statement
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-50-10 dated 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which set out the current position of the Revenue Monitoring Statement for the period to 31 July 2010 and the predicted year-end out-turn.
An underspend of £542,000 was anticipated for the year-end, largely arising from vacancies and lower than anticipated pay settlements. Vacancies were being filled.
The Board NOTED the content of the report, and APPROVED the transfer to reserves of any underspend in the current financial year to help facilitate future spending cuts, subject to the reserve threshold limit.
9. Revenue Reserve Strategy
There had been circulated Report No Fire-51-10 dated 15 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which recommended changes to the Service’s Revenue Reserve Strategy and sought approval from the Fire Board to apply for an increase in the reserve limit from 5% to 8%.
Having been advised that the 8% limit would be for 2011/12 initially, the Board APPROVED:
i. the approach to maximise revenue reserves in preparation for delivering
against the spending review challenges;
ii. the use of revenue reserve in future years to:
- address the capital challenge either through Capital From Current Revenue (CFCR) or prudential borrowing
- smooth the transitional costs associated with delivering the required savings; and
iii. the application to the Minister requesting an increase in the cap on
Revenue Reserves from 5% to allow an additional 3% above the current
balance to be carried forward from 2010/11.
10. Capital Expenditure 2010/11 Monitoring Report
There had been circulated Report No Fire-52-10 dated 15 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which summarised expenditure and income relating to the Board’s capital programme recorded in the ledger as at 30 September 2010.
The Chief Fire Officer drew attention to the budget having been reallocated to building acquisition in Walls and Uig (Skye), and upgrading works at Kirkwall, following delays with the Lochaline project.
The Board NOTED the report.
11. Quarterly Performance Report 2010/11
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-53-10 dated 15 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer on Service performance for the period 1 April to 30 September 2010, together with the overall Performance Report for that period. Performance reports relating to specific Authority areas had been previously issued to the appropriate Members. Members welcomed the new reporting style, which was appreciated by the Constituent Authorities.
The Chief Fire Officer gave a verbal report on a recent major fire at a Care Home in Culloden, Inverness. He congratulated all staff for their efficient and effective response to the incident. Members also warmly congratulated staff, and spoke highly of both the exemplary Service response and the actions of the local community, including individuals – young people in particular, the Red Cross and local businesses.
Members commented that a major factor contributing to the effective response had been training – there should be no cutbacks to the training budget. In response to questions raised, the Chief Fire Officer advised that the Culloden Care Home had been subject to a risk audit in 2005, following the Rose Park Care Home fire in Uddingston. Risk assessments were carried out on a cyclical basis, with priority given to properties presenting the greatest risk.
Appreciation having also been expressed with regard to the Service’s response to a fire on Sanday, Orkney, the Board NOTED the report and information given and AGREED that the Board send formal letters of appreciation to the Fire crews involved in the Care Home fire at Culloden.
12. trategic Scrutiny Review – Asset Management
A presentation was given by the Chief Fire Officer on the Service’s Asset Management Framework, providing information on:
- the purpose of the Framework
- the legislation, regulations and internal controls which had to be complied with
- the duties and responsibilities of the Board, particularly in terms of Best Value and longer term asset management
- scrutiny arrangements
- the assets held – buildings, vehicles, IT etc. – the total value of these being around £45m
- the strategy and process for planning, acquisition, operation and maintenance and disposal of assets
- the delivery model – long term planning being informed by the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP)
- future challenges, including building requirements, fleet replacement, IT infrastructure, legislation and funding.
In response to Member questions, the Chief Fire Officer advised that, whilst economic downturns might reduce the value of property assets held by the Board, during such times property purchased by the Board would be at a similarly reduced price, and vice versa.
Members were advised that a variety of means were being looked at to address the Board’s station requirements, including adaptation of existing buildings to a “fit for purpose” standard, as well as new builds. A report would be brought to the May 2011 meeting of the Board setting out investment proposals to secure the station upgrade requirements in a reduced timescale.
Members having commented that staff were the Board’s greatest asset, the Board NOTED the presentation and AGREED that:
i. where possible, the Board seek to pursue joint projects and adapt existing
buildings to assist with the provision of the large number of fire stations still
requiring to be brought up to a “fit for purpose” standard; and
ii. the Chief Fire Officer prepare reports on three particular areas of scrutiny:
- compliance with future legislation
- asset requirements of the Alternative Cover Model
- opportunities for alternative funding arrangements (e.g. partnership working, prudential borrowing, leasing)
13. Estate Management
i. Responsibility for Estate Management Issues
The Board was advised that project management, design and supervision of the property construction and maintenance elements of the Board’s capital programme were currently delegated to the Director of Housing and Property at Highland Council. There had been circulated Report No. Fire-54-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which provided Members with a proposal for revision to these elements of Highland and Islands Fire Board Estate Management, passing the appropriate delegated authority to the Chief Fire Officer.
The Assistant Chief Fire Officer advised that the revised delegation would allow the Service to take advantage of opportunities such as Private/Public Partnerships (PPP) available under the Northern Territory Hub.
The Board APPROVED the revision in Estate Management arrangements outlined in the report, i.e. that delegated authority and responsibility be given to the Chief Fire Officer for general management and capital investment, programmes and projects, with effect from 1 April 2011.
ii. The Northern Territory Hub
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-55-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Chief Fire Officer which built on previous reports to the Board outlining the proposal to create a regional Public/Private sector partnership for delivering high value capital projects. Membership of the hub would bring opportunities to the Board but no obligations.
Members were advised that Alba (a consortium of investment companies) had that day been announced as the preferred partner for the hub. Alba’s role would be to procure large scale (>£.05m) contracts for public sector bodies. The HIFB rarely had contracts of this size, but through the hub would be able to combine its requirements with those of other bodies to reach the £0.5m threshold. This would bring savings via economies of scale.
In discussion, Members raised concerns that using the hub had the potential to exclude local businesses from carrying out works, and that lower prices could mean a reduction in quality. Factors other than price must be taken into consideration. In response, the Assistant Chief Fire Officer advised that most of the Board’s contracts were small and would not be put to the hub. Members also expressed the view that PPP was now a discredited way of attaining assets, the terms of such agreements often being unreasonable.
After discussion, the Board APPROVED the proposals for the Highlands and Islands Fire Service’s membership of the Northern Territory Hub as a stakeholder, with terms scrutinised fully for each project, including the implications for local employment.
14. Capital Projects Monitoring Report
There had been circulated and was NOTED Report No. Fire-56-10 dated 18 November 2010 by the Director of Housing and Property of the Highland Council summarising the status of all current key projects carried out for the Board.
15. Scottish Fire Conveners’ Forum Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-57-10 dated 12 November 2010 by the Clerk comprising a briefing note on recent discussions at the Scottish Fire Conveners Forum.
The Convener having advised that the Conveners Forum had earlier that week drawn up a position statement on reform, which would be tabled at the Ministerial Advisory Group Sub-Group’s next meeting, the Board NOTED the report and the information given.
16. Scottish Fire Conference 2010
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-58-10 dated 12 November by the Chief Fire Officer which provided Members with an overview of the key elements of the Scottish Fire Conference 2010 held on 9 and 10 November 2010 at Crieff.
Positive feedback having been given verbally by Members who had attended the Conference, the Board NOTED the report and the information given.
17. Exclusion of the Public
The Board resolved that, under Section 50A(4) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, the public be excluded from the meeting for the following item on the grounds that it involved the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 7A of the Act.
18. Chief Officer Appointment
There had been circulated to Members only Report No. Fire59/10 dated 22 November 2010 by the Clerk on arrangements for the post of Chief Fire Officer after the Interim Chief Fire Officer’s secondment ceased in May 2011.
The Board APPROVED the recommendation as set out in the report, that the Board not advertise the position of Chief Fire Officer at this time, but put in place acting-up arrangements, within the Service, pending the outcome of the national review, at which point the temporary arrangements should be reviewed.
The meeting ended at 12.15 p.m.