Minutes of Meeting of The Highland and Islands Fire Board held in the Council Chamber, Highland Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, on Friday 30 March 2012, at 10.30 a.m.
Representing the Highland Council:
Mrs L Munro, Mr D Mackay, Mrs G Ross, Mrs I Campbell, Dr A Sinclair, Mr R Durham, Mrs M Paterson, Mr D Millar, Mr I Renwick, Mr E Hunter, Mrs H Carmichael, Mrs P Munro, Mr D Henderson, Mr F Parr, Mr R Balfour, Mr D Fallows
Representing Comhairle nan Eilean Siar:
Mr N M Macleod, Mr I MacKenzie, Mr P Carlin
Representing Orkney Islands Council:
Mr A Drever, Mr B Leslie
Representing Shetland Islands Council:
Mr A Duncan
Officials in attendance:
Mr M Holme, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services)
Mr S Edgar, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery - Seconded)
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)
Ms D Sutherland, Corporate Communications and Administration Manager (HIFRS)
Mr A Macleod, Property Manager (HIFRS)
Ms M Bruce, Senior Audit Manager, Audit Scotland
Mrs M Grigor, Treasurer’s Office
Ms M Morris, Clerk
Mr S Fraser, Legal Adviser to the Board
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 Boyle, Business Change Manager, Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland (Item 6)
Mrs C MacDiarmid, Head of Policy and Performance, The Highland Council (Item 6)
Mr R Durham in the Chair
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf Mr C Nicolson, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Mr A Cooper, Shetland Islands Council.
2. Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
3. Urgent Business – Management Issues relating to HIFRS
Exclusion of the Public
The Board NOTED that, in terms of Standing Order 16, the Convener had decided that this additional item of business, not specified on the agenda, should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency, in order to allow discussion of recently received correspondence relating to the management of the Service.
The Board RESOLVED that, under Section 50A(4) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, the public be excluded for this 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. All Fire Officers also left the room for this item.
Mr R Dennis, Scottish Government Head of Fire and Rescue Division addressed the Board. He highlighted a number of concerns, and responded to Members’ questions.
Members discussed the matters raised robustly and in depth. The Board welcomed the Peer Support Team’s continued involvement in current and future service delivery and in preparing the HIFRS for integration into the single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from April 2013. The Board’s focus was strongly on addressing the current issues; however, it was also important, without seeking to apportion blame, to understand how shortcomings had arisen.
Following a full debate, the Board NOTED the information given and AGREED a motion moved by the Convener and seconded by the Vice Convener:
i. to accept the advice of the Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Authorities; and
ii. that strategic advice and management of the Service be provided through the Peer Support Team acting collectively with the Board’s current temporary strategic management arrangements, agreed by the Board at its meeting on 19 March 2012.
Following a vote, the Board AGREED to suspend the meeting and invite both Deputy Chief Fire Officers (DCFOs) to discuss informally a number of issues.
The meeting adjourned forthwith (12.25 p.m.) to permit these discussions.
4. Procedural Matters
The meeting reconvened at 2.00 p.m.
In terms of Standing Order 17, the Board AGREED that agenda item 7, Audit Scotland Best Value Audit – Accounts Commission Findings, be taken at this point in the proceedings.
5. Audit Scotland Best Value Audit – Accounts Commission Findings
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-20-12 (32kb pdf) dated 21 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officers on the Accounts Commission’s findings on Audit Scotland’s Best Value Audit of Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service.
Mr A Duncan, seconded by Mr N M Macleod, moved that the Board not discuss this item on this day, and that the authors of the Report and the Accounts Commission meet with the Highland and Islands Fire Board to discuss the content of the Audit Scotland Best Value report, in the lifetime of the present Board.
There being no amendment, the Board so AGREED.
6. Presentation: Fire Reform Update
A presentation was given by Mr David Boyle, the Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland Business Change Manager, on progress with Fire Reform.
Mr Boyle summarised the Bill’s progress through Parliament and the evidence and scrutiny committees. Scoping work was now largely complete and a blueprint to 2015 was being drawn up. Many Local Authorities were involved in Pathfinder projects, and events were being arranged to enable best practice to be identified. The Reform Team was progressing key programmes and projects relating to Prevention and Protection, Response and Resilience, Workforce and Business Support. HIFRS staff were involved in this work. The role of the Reform Team included developing and delivering critical Day One issues, acting collectively for the good of the service, aligning benefits and minimising risk, developing options appraisals for the new Chief and Board to consider, and providing leadership for Scotland on Reform issues. Other activities included working with Boards and Local Authorities to ensure priorities were delivered, including Single Outcome Agreements and Community Planning Partnership activities, supporting staff through the transition, embedding equality considerations, and communication. The Trades Unions were included in discussions - a task-orientated approach was being taken. The structure of the new service, and the relationship between the new Chief Fire Officer and the new Board, were not yet known. The aim was to decentralise across Scotland. Good progress was being made, and the end result should be that communities were safer for everyone.
In answer to questions raised, Mr Boyle advised that decisions as to how the service might operate on a regional basis would be taken by the new Chief and Board. However, any sub-national design would be predicated by the incident command system. Geography and time taken to travel to incidents would be taken into account. The rank of officer allocated to any particular area had yet to be determined. Any delay in appointing a Chief Fire Officer could potentially have a knock-on effect on when the single service came into operation. However, as the Chief Fire Officer appointment was expected to be made by Ministers, rather than the new Board, by October 2012, it was hoped that such delay would not arise.
The Highland Council’s Head of Policy and Performance (HPP) provided information on Pathfinder activities being undertaken in the Board’s area. A copy of a report on Pathfinder Projects that had been considered by the Northern Joint Police Board on 29 March 2012 was tabled for information. The HPP explained that the new national service would mean a new role for Local Authorities, including agreeing and scrutinising a Fire and Rescue plan for the Local Authority area. Amongst the Islands, Shetland Council would be leading on Pathfinder activities, and the Highland Council would also be undertaking Pathfinder work. Committees would be set up to run alongside the Board, and would consider areas for scrutiny and how the priorities for the Fire and Rescue plan could be shaped. There would be scope for strengthening Community Planning Partnerships, with possible scrutiny of the Police, the Ambulance Service and perhaps the NHS. Membership of the Pathfinder Committees would be determined by the respective Local Authorities, but appointing Members from existing Police and Fire Boards would be possible.
The Convener having thanked Mr Boyle and the HPP, the Board NOTED the information given.
7. Minutes of Special Meeting of 19 March 2012
There had been submitted for confirmation as a correct record and were APPROVED the Minutes of the Special Meeting held on 19 March 2012 (70kb pdf).
8. Revenue Monitoring
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-17-12 (53kb pdf) dated 20 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) setting out the Service’s revenue spend as at 29 February 2012. A net revenue overspend of £71,000 was anticipated at the year end. The reasons for this were detailed in the report.
The Deputy Assistant Chief Officer/Head of Corporate Services explained the figures under each budget heading as set out in the report, and drew particular attention to areas where expenditure was currently estimated and which could therefore alter the estimated year-end out-turn. An increase in the activity of retained fire-fighters was anticipated due to wild-fires occurring in spring.
In response to questions, Members were informed that, should the year-end out-turn be an overspend, the shortfall would be met from Reserves. A £71,000 overspend would mean that the Reserves for 2012/13 would be £146,000, rather than the £217,000 previously noted by the Board. Members expressed the view that this was a serious situation and urged that a special case be made to the Scottish Government for additional funding.
Members also raised a number of questions relating to training and use of IT. The DCFO (Service Delivery) advised that the careful planning of the Safer Fire Fighters Programme helped to ensure that courses ran at capacity, although there could be genuine reasons that Fire-fighters could not attend, such as sickness or adverse weather. Improved ICT was being rolled out and should be installed in all stations by mid-May. This would support local training. The three training units would soon be running at full capacity.
The Board NOTED the report and that reports on progress with training would be brought to the Board on a regular basis, and AGREED that the Service make a special case to the Scottish Government for additional funding to meet the costs of training, as the current level of reserves was likely to be insufficient should a significant incident occur.
9. Capital Monitoring Report 2011/12 and Capital Programme Update
Additional information now being available, the Board RESOLVED that, under Section 50A(4) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, the public be excluded for part (ii) of this item, “Capital Programme – Project Update”, 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.
The Board AGREED that this part of the item be taken at the end of the meeting.
i. Capital Programme Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-18-12 (57kb pdf) dated 22 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) providing Members with a summary of expenditure and income relating to the Highland and Islands Fire Board capital programme recorded in the ledger as at 29 February 2012, and a summary of progress against the major capital projects.
The Deputy Assistant Chief Officer/Head of Corporate Services drew attention to the points contained in the report. The year-end out-turn was expected to be an underspend of £971,000. This had resulted from decisions the Board had taken since November 2011 to realign the capital programme in order to release funds to support the fire-fighter training programme, and from some slippage in vehicle and equipment programmes. It was recommended that the underspend be carried forward. The DCFO (Foundation Services) reminded Members that the future capital programme would be informed by sustainability reports; a report would be brought to the June Board.
The Estates Manager summarised progress with property developments, as set out in the report. He also advised the Board that potential difficulties could arise when property assets were transferred to the single service, for example should it be found that land was in crofting tenure, or that historic agreements had not been formalised.
Members referred to recent criticism of the Board relating to its capital programme, particularly for building stations in remote locations, and confirmed that there was a requirement to build a network stations to provide cover across the Board’s area. The Board had taken action to reduce build costs and had embarked on joint projects where opportunities had arisen. Around 40 stations required significant investment - some stations lacked even the most basic facilities. The Board had also taken action to improve its budgetary position and address its former tendency to set a budget above Grant Aided Expenditure level. Whilst it was accepted that some mistakes had been made, huge improvements had been achieved and these should be recognised.
The Board NOTED:
i. the content of the report, including general progress on approved projects,
the position with suspended projects, the position with Kinlochewe and
Torridon, and the available option for Bressay; and
ii. that a report would be brought to the June 2012 Board which would make
recommendations with regard to capital expenditure, informed by
The Board APPROVED:
i. the carry forward of any capital underspend at the year-end, subject to
financial constraints as identified in paragraph 6 of the report; and
ii. the requirement to explore the availability and value and cost of other sites
suitable for development in relation to Stornoway and Thurso.
10. Diamond Jubilee Holiday
In terms of Standing Order 17, the Board AGREED that this item be considered at this point in the meeting.
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-29-12 (29kb pdf) dated 21 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) advising that the UK and Scottish Governments had announced that an additional public holiday would take place on Tuesday, 5 June 2012, to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The report outlined how the Jubilee public holiday could be applied within Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service.
The Board AGREED to adopt the arrangements agreed at the National Joint Council for recognition of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee additional public holiday (these having been received after the circulated report had been written); and that the holiday be taken on 4 June 2012.
11. Recess Powers
In terms of Standing Order 17, the Board AGREED that this item be considered at this point in the meeting.
Members were advised that the legislation establishing the Board provided that, if re-elected to their respective authorities, the Convener and Vice-Convener would each continue in post until the first meeting of their respective authorities following the local government elections, at which meeting each authority would appoint its new Board members.
There would then be a period before the new Board met on 7 June 2012 and appointed its office bearers when each office would necessarily be vacant.
Should the Convener or Vice Convener be not re-elected to their respective local authority, their office would be deemed vacant from the date of the Election.
The Board AGREED that:
i. between the Election and the first meeting of the Board, powers to deal
with urgent business requiring Board approval, or consultation with the
Convener and/or Vice-Convener, be exercised by the Clerk, in consultation
with the Chief Fire Officer (or, in his absence, the Deputy Chief Fire Officer),
and, where still in post, the Convener and/or Vice-Convener; and
ii. any use of such recess powers be reported to the first meeting of the new
Board following the Elections.
12. Best Value Indicators
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-21-12 (27kb pdf) dated 20 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) setting out recommendations to improve the Service’s performance reporting through the inclusion of Best Value performance indicators in the Service’s summary quarterly performance report.
Audit Scotland had commented favourably on the Service’s quarterly reports and it was now proposed to extend the reports to include additional information, which would assist the Board in its scrutiny function.
The Board NOTED the report and APPROVED the inclusion of the Best Value indicators in respect of employees, finance, and procurement, as set out in the report, in the summary Service Quarterly Performance reports from April 2012/13.
13. Audit Scotland – Annual Audit Plan
There had been circulated the Highland and Islands Fire Board Annual Audit Plan for 2011/12 (404kb pdf). The Senior Audit Manager for Audit Scotland drew attention to the main points of the report, including in particular the Summary Assurance Plan, identified risks and management action being taken in response.
In response to questions, the Senior Audit Manager confirmed that there had been developments since the report had been written, and that assurance had now been received in relation to the Board’s key financial accounting systems.
The Board NOTED the report.
14. Safer FireFighters Newsletter and Operational Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-22-12 (14kb pdf) dated 23 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery) on the introduction of the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue “Safer Firefighters Programme” Newsletter. A copy of Issue 1 of the Newsletter was tabled.
The Newsletter was supported by the Representative Bodies and would be issued to all staff and key stakeholders on a regular basis. A new communication site also had been set up on the HIFRS Intranet.
Members having commented on the layout and content of the Newsletter, the Board NOTED the report, and that future editions would contain greater detail.
The DCFO (Service Delivery) gave a verbal update on recent operational activities, including a major fire on 27 March at a scrap metal yard in Inverness, and serious wildfires at Skibo and Aigas. The commitment and professionalism of Fire-fighters and control room staff was commended.
The Board praised the Fire Service staff, and NOTED the update.
15. Special Service Charges
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-23-12 (47kb pdf) dated 21 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) providing Members with information that would allow them to consider a recommendation to increase the Service’s Special Service Charges in line with inflation for the financial year 2012/13.
The Board NOTED the report and APPROVED the increases in Special Service Charges for 2012/13 as set out in the report.
16. Procurement Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-24-12 (59kb pdf) dated 20 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) providing an update on the Service’s progress against its procurement targets.
The Deputy Assistant Chief Officer/Head of Corporate Services drew attention to the main points of the report. The Scottish Government was seeking continued improvement in procurement performance, and the Service was required to measure its progress. The Board had adopted a procurement strategy at its meeting on 11 May 2011, and an assessment in November 2011 had shown that significant progress had been made against targets.
Members welcomed the progress made but looked for improvements to continue, with higher scores being achieved in future assessments.
The Board NOTED the report.
17. Review of Financial Regulations and Contract Standing Orders
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-25-12 (52kb pdf) dated 20 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) introducing and seeking approval for revisions to the Fire Board’s Financial Regulations and Standing Orders relating to Contracts.
The Deputy Assistant Chief Officer/Head of Corporate Services summarised the report and drew attention to the changes proposed.
The Board AGREED to adopt the amendments to the Financial Regulations and Contract Standing Orders as detailed in Appendix A to the report.
18. Strategic Risk Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-26-12 (39kb pdf) dated 21 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) setting out the strategic risks facing the Service and detailing the management controls necessary to minimise the risks to the Service and the Board.
The DCFO (Foundation Services) drew attention to the main points of the report. The risk register was updated regularly, the main risks at present being the impact of reform (loss of key staff and demotivated workforce), pensions changes, and the Best Value Audit report. Measures were in place to ensure delivery of fuel should the threatened tanker drivers’ strike take place.
The Convener commented that the Board could be reassured that strategic management responses were in place to deal with identified risks, should these materialise. The Service would continue to be delivered to people and communities.
The Board NOTED the report, acknowledging the risks identified within it and the control measures that were being put in place to manage the risks to the Service and Board.
19. Marine Incident Response Group (MIRG)
There had been circulated Report No. Fire-27-12 (27kb pdf) dated 19 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery) informing Members on the position of the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) nationally.
The DCFO (Service Delivery) summarised the report. It was his professional view that the Service should cease firefighting at sea activities. Responsibility for firefighting at sea lay with the Marine and Coastguard Agency, there had been no incidents at sea in the area since 2006, and the costs of continuing firefighting at sea were £130,000 per year - this money would in his view be better spent in addressing the current training issues. Crews would continue to attend fires on ships which were in port.
Comments raised in discussion included that while modern ships had excellent suppression systems and appropriately trained crew, some concerns nonetheless remained with regard to oil tankers.
The Board NOTED the report and that, as no funding was available from the UK Government or other sources, provision of the Fire Fighting at Sea capability would cease with effect from 1 April 2012, as agreed by the Board on 25 November 2011. The Board AGREED that a letter be sent to the Government expressing disappointment at the withdrawal of the funding.
20. Legislative Fire Safety Audits
There had been circulated Report No Fire-28-12 (21kb pdf) dated 21 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery) advising Members on recent activity to ensure that Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (HIFRS) completed fire safety audits on premises within the Highlands and Islands.
The DCFO (Service Delivery) outlined the duties imposed by the Fire (Scotland) 2005 Act on the Board, which were carried out by the Service, in particular the statutory requirements relating to safety audits of premises. He informed Members that there were 1401 high risk (sleeping) premises in the Board’s area which should be audited on an annual basis. For 2011/12, only 239 (21%) of high risk premises had been audited. With support from other Fire and Rescue Services, a plan had been put in place to address the backlog and to ensure that all high risk audits henceforward were carried out annually. It was the Service’s aim to exceed the minimum inspection targets and operate as a high performing service.
Members demanded assurances that the inspection audits would be carried out, and regular updates on progress provided. Action needed to be taken immediately to ensure that the required safety audits were undertaken, now and in the future. Both DCFOs gave an assurance that all high risk premises would be audited, and that regular reports would be brought to the Board. Plans for addressing the situation were well advanced and additional assistance had been offered by Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service, to supplement the limited inspection resource available in HIFRS. The Strathclyde Officers would require to be seconded to HIFRS in order for them to be issued with warrant cards etc., to enable them to carry out the inspections.
In response to questions, Members were advised that the number of high-risk audits carried out in previous years ranged from 184 to 335. The frequency of re-inspection of premises was determined by the findings of the safety audit - some properties were audited every year. Regular audits were undertaken of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs); there was partnership working with the Local Authorities in this regard. New premises were fully audited and the findings used to determine the level of risk and the re-visit timescale. Audits were carried out by appropriately trained officers.
The Board NOTED the report and the information given, and that:
i. regular progress reports would be brought to the Board; and
ii. a report would be brought to the June 2012 Board setting out how the
legally required safety audits would be achieved.
The Board APPROVED the use of officers from other Fire and Rescue Services in Scotland to support HIFRS.
21. Dates of Future Meetings in 2012
The Board NOTED that Friday 31 August and Friday 30 November had been identified as dates for future Board meetings in 2012 and that the new Board would be asked to confirm these dates at its inaugural meeting on 7 June 2012.
22. Execution of Deeds
Members NOTED the deed recently executed on behalf of the Board, as set out in the agenda for the meeting.
23. 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.
24. Capital Programme – Project Update
There had been circulated Report No. Fire19/12 dated 21 March 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) reminding Members that, at the meeting of the Board in February 2012, it had been decided to suspend any further development on the Bonar Bridge site, pending the outcome of the Chief Fire Officer’s Sustainability Report. Following technical site investigation and options appraisal, the report put forward a recommended course of action.
Additional information relating to the value of the Board’s asset under a range of scenarios was provided.
The Board APPROVED the acquisition of the additional land, as set out in the report.
Having adjourned for informal discussion with DCFO (Service Delivery) and DCFO (Foundation Services) (Item 1 refers) at 12.25 p.m. and lunch having been taken thereafter, the meeting reconvened at 2.00 p.m. and ended at 4.00 p.m.