Minutes of Meeting of The Highland and Islands Fire Board held in the Council Chamber, Highland Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, on Monday 19 March 2012, at 10.30 a.m.
Representing the Highland Council:
Mrs L Munro, Mr D Mackay, Mr D Millar, Mrs G Ross, Mr I Renwick, Mrs I Campbell, Dr A Sinclair, Mr R Durham, Mrs M Paterson, Mrs H Carmichael, Mrs P Munro, Mr D Henderson, Mr F Parr, Mr R Balfour, Mr D Fallows
Representing Comhairle nan Eilean Siar:
Mr I MacKenzie, Mr C Nicolson, Mr P Carlin, Mr M Macleod (Substitute)
Representing Orkney Islands Council:
Mr A Drever, Mr B Leslie
Representing Shetland Islands Council:
Mr A Duncan, Mr A Cooper
Officials in attendance:
Mr M Holme, Deputy Chief Fire Officer
Mr S Edgar, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Seconded), Programme Manager for the Safer Fire Fighters Programme
Mr B Wilson, Deputy Assistant Chief Officer/Head of Operations
Mr M Jenks, Deputy Assistant Chief Officer/Head of Corporate Services,
Mr S Hay, Head of Community Risk Management, Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS)
Mr D Smith, Area Manager Programme Manager – Strategic Support Officer (Seconded)
Ms D Sutherland, Corporate Communications and Administration Manager (HIFRS)
Mr A MacLeod, Property Manager (HIFRS)
Mrs M Grigor, Treasurer’s Office
Ms M Morris, Clerk
Mrs R Moir, Assistant Clerk
Ms L Lee, Clerk’s Office
Mr S Taylor, Clerk’s Office
Also in attendance:
Mr R Dennis, Head of Fire and Rescue Division, Scottish Government
Mr D Miller, Assistant Chief Fire Officer/Director of Corporate Services, Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service (Peer Support Team)
Mr R Durham in the Chair
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr E Hunter of the Highland Council and Mr N Macleod of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
2. Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
3. Minutes of Meeting of 17 February 2012
There had been submitted for confirmation as a correct record and were APPROVED the Minutes of Meeting held on 17 February 2012.
Further to a question raised at that meeting in relation to Members’ liability under Health and Safety etc. legislation, the Board NOTED that the Board’s Legal Adviser would provide a briefing on this matter immediately following the meeting.
4. Principal Officer Responsibilities
There had been circulated Report No. fire-11-12 (13kb pdf) dated 9 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officers informing Members of the arrangements regarding Principal Officers of Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS). The report proposed that DCFO Holme would be responsible for Foundation Services, and that DCFO Edgar would be responsible for Service Delivery, including the Safer Fire-Fighters Programme. DCFOs Holme and Edgar would be supported by DACOs Jenks and Wilson respectively.
The DCFO (Service Support) provided information as to the activities that would be carried out under each role. It was also pointed out that the term ‘Foundation Services’ had been used for clarity in this report. However, within HIFRS, Service Support was known as Foundation Services.
Members welcomed the proposed arrangements and the contribution being made by DCFO Edgar. In response to questions raised, clarification was given that DCFO Holme was the Service’s appointed leader in the absence of the Chief Fire Officer. However, it was emphasised that, on a practical level, both DCFOs worked closely as a team. Members requested that, for clarity, DCFO Edgar’s job title reflect his secondment to HIFRS. Clarification was also given that the proposed arrangements were temporary.
The Board APPROVED the proposed temporary arrangements as set out in the report, including clarification of DCFO Edgar’s job title to reflect his secondment to Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service. The Board also AGREED that the Convener write to the Chief Fire Officer on behalf of the Board to pass on the Board’s best wishes for his recovery.
5. Service Improvement
i. Sustainability Model
There had been circulated Report No. fire-12-12 (30kb pdf) dated 12 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services). The report defined the criteria for a sustainable station and presented a station criteria Policy and Review Procedure. It also outlined the additional work required to define a Best Value response model based on the management of risk by reactive emergency response and proactive risk management and reduction.
The DCFO (Foundation Services) summarised the main points of the report. It was recognised that “one size” did not “fit all”. Each station must be looked at individually. However, there were a number of absolutes which could not be changed, including: sufficient crew numbers, physical fitness standards, ability to commit to training, and ability to respond to calls when required. Thereafter, subjective consideration would be given in terms of Best Value and Power of Wellbeing. The aim was to maintain all stations, but, where serious sustainability issues were apparent, there would be full engagement with stakeholders to seek solutions. Should the final outcome be unwelcome, this should come as no surprise to any of the parties involved.
A number of stations currently having problems demonstrating sustainability were being looked at, and it was probable that the position would change over time. Whilst it was normal for the number of stations “off the run” to change from day to day, where a crew was unavailable for an extended period, this had to be addressed. Absolute figures for minimum crew numbers for individual stations could not be given; if all members were based locally and available at all times, a station might be viable with a crew of six; however, should the composition of the crew change, with some members available at certain times only, a larger crew would be needed to give full cover.
Members expressed concern relating to the time taken to process new recruits, and urged that every effort be made to reduce the time from an application being received to a retained fire fighter taking up an operational role. Attention was drawn to the Service’s use of the Government’s “myjobscotland” website to advertise vacant posts and it was hoped that this would accelerate the initial recruitment stages. It was explained that reasons for delays in progress thereafter varied, but included recruits’ inability to attend medicals and training. Initial training in the HIFRS area was available only quarterly. Given reported difficulties also experienced by retained fire fighters in attending ongoing training, Members requested that Officers investigate whether training could be provided to neighbouring stations jointly, and whether any incentive could be offered to employers to encourage them to release staff for retained firefighter duties.
Members also emphasised the importance of effective communication and engagement with staff, Members and communities. Media reporting was not always accurate and could be detrimental to morale.
In response to questions raised, Members were advised that:
• determining how Best Value and the Power of Wellbeing would be applied to stations would be subjective; a range of factors and alternatives would be looked at alongside the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP)
• existing policies, referred to in the report, would be revised rather than new policies developed
• the knock-on effects of changed station roles could only be addressed when the role of the station had been determined; the approach would be to identify stations which were clearly having problems demonstrating sustainability and those which were clearly sustainable, and then to consider permutations of fire cover from that starting point
• the DCFO (Foundation Services) would investigate and confirm whether it would be legitimate for Constituent Authorities to subsidise individual stations which the Board decided not to keep open.
Standards of fire-fighter training and fitness were discussed in depth. Members from all Constituent Authorities emphasised that “one size” did not “fit all”. Views were strongly expressed that the different position in rural areas must be recognised by the Government: standards must be proportionate and achievable. Communities would rather have some provision than none. Removal of services from rural areas led to depopulation. In response, the DCFO (Foundation Services) stated that the Service aimed to meet national standards of recruitment and retention. Operating under variable standards was difficult, and introducing these would require longer discussions with Local Authorities as to Best Value and the Power of Wellbeing, and engagement with communities. Local standards would also be more difficult to manage and monitor. However, it was clear that one size did not fit all and taking account of this was the correct approach. He also gave assurances that, where a person did not meet the physical standards, the Service would actively engage with them to promote their return to fitness, and that the Representative Bodies were involved in discussions regarding the roll-out of physical training.
Sustainability reports would be brought to the Board on a quarterly basis, from June 2012. Members recognised that the proposed way forward would mean a significant workload for the Service. If progress was slow, the Board risked being superseded by the single Service before sustainable solutions had been put in place. As much as possible should be done in early course and Members expressed a willingness to extend Board meetings as required in order to achieve this. A suggestion was made that, in locations where no alternative cover was available, stations having problems demonstrating sustainability should be taken forward first.
After discussion, the Board NOTED:
i. the additional work required to define an appropriate resource distribution for the Service;
ii. that Member suggestions regarding shared training with neighbouring stations would be taken forward by officers – this would include discussion with local crews;
iii. clarification that existing Human Resources policies would be reviewed, rather than new policies developed;
iv. that Human Resources and Occupational Health staff would work with the representative bodies in rolling out the fitness programme;
v. that it was expected that the first sustainability report would be brought to the June 2012 Board meeting, with quarterly reports thereafter; and
vi. that information on methods of engagement with communities and Fire-fighters would be brought to a future Board.
The Board APPROVED:
i. the Station Sustainability Criteria;
ii. the Station Sustainability Review Procedure; and
iii. the use of sustainability reports in defining the capital programme.
The Board AGREED that dates for Board meetings for the remainder of 2012 be brought to the 30 March 2012 Board.
ii. Safer Fire-Fighters Programme
There had been circulated Report No. fire-13-12 (123kb pdf) dated 12 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery – Seconded) updating Members on the Highlands & Islands Fire & Rescue Service ‘Safer Fire-fighters Programme’ (SFFP).
The DCFO (SD-S) summarised the main points of the report. Delivery of the Programme had already commenced and would continue in a phased way, as set out in Appendix 2 to the report. Stations with high activity levels would be addressed first. All stations would start Incident Command and Supervisory training without delay. Fire-fighter kit was being tested, and henceforward this would take place on an annual basis. Any overdue medical assessments were being prioritised. Assistance was being provided by other Fire and Rescue Services to enable the Programme to be taken forward as quickly as possible, and this was welcomed. Progress reports would be brought to future Board meetings.
Action had also been taken to improve relations with the media, and bulletins would also be issued to staff to ensure accurate information reached them timeously. In response to Member comment generally on the media, the DCFO (SD-S) gave an undertaking that Board Members would be sent copies of all Service press releases.
Members welcomed the report. The clear facts and figures would assist the Board in its scrutiny role. Direction of travel was positive and it was hoped that the Programme could be achieved quickly. In answer to questions raised, confirmation was given that the Service held base-line data against which progress would be measured, and that the Board would be kept updated.
Issues relating to training were discussed in depth. In response to points raised, Members were advised that:
• 12 fire-fighters had undertaken national supervisory management training in the past three years; phase 1 of the Programme would see supervisory/incident command training being given to 110 fire-fighters (one third of the target number)
• all stations had a senior fire-fighter with additional skills – crews were able to attend incidents even if a supervisory manager was not available
• as much notice as possible of training dates was given; self-rostering for e-training was also available; where a person did not attend for training there was usually a good reason and alternative times would be offered
• fire-fighters with access to a computer were encouraged to use this for e-training modules; capacity at stations was limited
• Breathing Apparatus (BA) and Fire Behaviour Training covered separate skills; both required fire-fighters to attend training at one of the Board’s three specialised training units
• Strathclyde and Lothian & Borders had offered to lend their mobile training units for Breathing Apparatus training – this was being looked into
• the Service was looking at increasing its number of internal instructors
• local training, including joint training with neighbouring stations, was arranged wherever possible
• the Service worked with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in relation to water safety training, and there were strong links between a number of airports for exercises and training.
Members encouraged the Service to work jointly with other bodies where appropriate and to consider using local colleges as training bases.
In response to questions relating to the SFFP, Members were informed that:
• the SFFP was not a national programme, but a means of allowing FRSs to deliver the national standards of 49 modules for fulltime fire-fighters and 19 for retained
• all Scottish FRS had been asked in 2003 to adopt the Scottish Fire-fighter Development Programme– it was not clear why HIFRS had not done so at the time
• following Board approval in February 2012, the HIFRS SFFP was being developed with the additional resource available through the Peer Support Team.
The DCFO (SD-S) provided an update on a number of recent incidents. Fire-fighters had demonstrated significant commitment and professionalism. Members warmly supported the DCFO’s comments.
The Board NOTED the report and that:
i. information would be brought to a future meeting setting out the support received from other Fire and Rescue Authorities;
ii. a baseline was in place against which progress with training would be measured, and updates would be brought to the Board;
iii. any future Service press releases would be issued to Board Members in advance of the press; and
iv. officers would investigate potential for shared training with airports.
The Board APPROVED the delivery of the Safer Fire-fighters Programme in the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service.
6. Independent Review
There had been circulated Report No. fire-14-12 (22kb pdf) dated 12 March 2012 by the Clerk setting out terms of reference for a possible investigation into the sequence of events, actions and exchanges that had led to the present challenges facing the Service and the Board.
The Clerk summarised the main points of the report. A copy of a complaint received in terms of the Public Disclosure Policy, referenced in the report, was tabled to Members only, and time allowed for this to be read. Following discussion as to whether this complaint should be investigated as part of any wider independent inquiry, Mrs P Munro, seconded by Mr F Parr, moved that the complaint be dealt with in terms of the Board’s public disclosure policy, separately from any independent review inquiry. There was no amendment. Members were generally supportive of the complaint investigation being carried out by an independent person and recognised that the investigation findings could feed into any wider investigation.
Whilst there was general agreement that the Board must look to the future and address the current difficulties, views as to whether an independent review inquiry be held were divided. Arguments in support of such an inquiry included that:
• there was a need for transparency and avoidance of any perception of “cover-up”
• there was a need to set the record straight and clarify where responsibility lay
• it was important to ensure that any identified shortcomings were not repeated
• the findings would provide useful information for the forthcoming Scottish Fire and Rescue Authority.
Arguments against an Inquiry included that:
• it exposed the Board to risk - the outcome of the inquiry was uncertain; there could be unforeseen and unintended consequences
• it was unnecessary, as an inquiry would not change the things that had happened; the focus should be on addressing the situation and handing over a Fire Service in as good a condition as possible to the new national Authority
• the purpose of the inquiry and the actions that would be taken against any parties subject to criticism were unclear; lessons had already been learned
• it would be superficial - minutes and similar records would not give a full representation of Board deliberations, transcripts of meetings would be needed but could not now be produced; there were practical issues with regard to retired officers providing evidence, as this could not be compelled
• it would be expensive.
In the course of discussion, a number of comments were made by those Members supporting the investigation, including that it should be carried out by independent, objective parties, and that it should establish what training deficiencies there were, when these had arisen, and when they had been reported to the Board.
The Convener intimated that it was his intention to contest with the Accounts Commission a number of the findings of the Best Value Audit, including those relating to bad management. It was his view that the network of stations agreed with Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Fire Services in 2002/3 had never been adequately funded by Scottish Government and this had given rise to the present difficulties.
Mr D Henderson, seconded by the Convener, MOVED that:
i. the Board agree to an independent investigation;
ii. the Board agree the Terms of Reference as set out in the report, subject to the extension of these to include identification of training deficiencies, when these had arisen, and when these had been reported to the Board; and
iii. the investigation should be undertaken by the internal audit section of a local authority outside the Highlands and Islands, supported by an external fire officer nominated by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Advisory Unit (SFRAU).
Mr R Balfour, seconded by Mrs B Campbell, moved as an Amendment that there was no need to proceed to an independent investigation on the following grounds:
i. no continuing issues existed of sufficient weight to make the proposed inquiry necessary;
ii. such an inquiry would impose considerable expense on the Board at a time of national economic stringency;
iii. such an inquiry, on the terms proposed, could have no conclusive outcome;
iv. should such an inquiry take place it should be in a full and transparent manner.
On a vote being taken, the Motion received 18 votes and the Amendment received 3 votes and the MOTION was therefore CARRIED.
The Board AGREED that:
i. the investigation into the complaint received be carried out in terms of the Board’s/Service’s Public Disclosure Policy, separately from the independent investigation, and be carried out by an independent person; and
ii. in the interests of transparency, public confidence and learning, and to provide information for the forthcoming Scottish Fire and Rescue Authority:
• an independent investigation be carried out in line with the Terms of Reference as set out in Appendix 1 to the report, subject to the extension of these to include identification of training deficiencies, when these arose, and when these were reported to the Board
• the investigation should be undertaken by the Internal Audit section of a Local Authority other than the four Constituent Authorities
• technical assistance to the investigation should be provided by an independent Senior Fire Officer, to be nominated by SFRAU.
The Board NOTED that the Convener would be contesting a number of assertions and comments contained in the Best Value audit in the course of his forthcoming meeting with the Accounts Commission.
7. Response to the Scottish Government’s Justice Committee’s Request for Written Evidence
There had been circulated copy of the response (62kb pdf) sent on behalf of the Fire Board to the Scottish Government’s Justice Committee’s request for written evidence on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, compiled by the Clerk in consultation with the Convener and Vice Convener and submitted ahead of the 6 March 2012 deadline.
One recommendation included in the response had been for the prohibition in Section 51 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 on employment of police within the fire and rescue service to be repealed, with a view to assisting in overcoming recruitment difficulties in remote rural and island authorities by making provision for paid and voluntary employment in more than one emergency service, so allowing skills found in the separate emergency services to be developed across staff and deployed more quickly to deal with emergencies arising. The comment was made in discussion that the issue of allowing Police Officers to become retained fire-fighters was, however, a complex one that could give rise to problems.
The Board HOMOLOGATED the response sent.
8. Joint Consultative Group – Extension of Remit.
Following comments made at the Board’s Seminar held on 24 February 2012, it was suggested that the Board widen the current remit of the its Joint Consultative Group to include “to provide a forum for information exchange and informal debate on current issues and events affecting the Fire Service or its employees”.
The Board was reminded that the current remit of the Joint Consultative Group was as follows:
a) in the event of an impasse at the conclusion of a consultation process between the Service management and Staff representatives: to assist the management and representative bodies to identify their differences clearly and to support them in trying to achieve agreement; and, to this end, to make suggestions with a view to preventing differences and resolving disagreements; and
b) in the event of an impasse in collective negotiation: to offer suggestions and solutions to assist in resolving the issue.
During discussion, attention was drawn to the infrequency of this Group’s meetings and the suggestion made that it should meet on a more regular footing in future.
The Board AGREED that:
i. the remit of the Joint Consultative Group be extended to include:
c) to provide a forum for information exchange and informal debate on current issues and events affecting the Fire Service or its employees; and
ii. it be recommended to the incoming Board that such meetings be held on a quarterly basis, allowing feedback to Board meetings.
9. Performance Reports – Third Quarter 2011/12
There had been circulated Report No. fire-15-12 (13kb pdf) dated 6 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officers, recalling that copies of the Third Quarterly Performance report for 2011/12 had been distributed to Members at the Special Board meeting held on 17 February 2012. A further copy of the Quarter Three report was tabled at the meeting for ease of reference.
During discussion, an undertaking was given to provide the Shetland Members with further information on the status of Skerries station and whether it had been involved in any recent activity. In response to other questions, clarification was given on the impact of Standby status on the recorded statistics for the Inverness Retained station, and also on the meaning of “other” in relation to Special Services.
The Board NOTED the content of the performance report previously circulated for the third quarter 2011/12.
10. 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 Paragraphs 6, 8 and 9 of Part 1 of Schedule 7A of the Act.
11. Capital Programme – Project Update
There had been circulated to Members only Report No. Fire16/12 dated 12 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officers providing Members with cost, benefit and risk information on the option of deferral of construction works on projects in progress at Whalsay and Fair Isle (Shetland), St Margaret’s Hope, (Orkney) and John O’Groats, (Highland).
The Board welcomed the report and APPROVED the recommendation to proceed with the construction of the stations at Whalsay, Fair Isle, St. Margaret’s Hope, and John O’Groats without deferral or further delay. The Board also AGREED that an update on the Stornoway station would be brought to a future meeting.
Having adjourned for lunch at 1.35 p.m. and reconvened at 2.10 p.m., the meeting ended at 2.40 p.m.