Minutes of Special Meeting of The Highland and Islands Fire Board held in the Chamber, Highland Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness on Monday, 25 June 2012 at 1.30 p.m.
Representing the Highland Council:
Mr R Balfour, Mr I Brown, Mrs I Campbell, Mrs H Carmichael, Mr D Fallows, Mr L Fraser (Substitute), Mr E Hunter, Mr R Laird (Substitute), Mr D Mackay, Mr F Parr, Ms G Ross, Dr A Sinclair, Ms K Stephen, Mr J Stone, Mr H Wood (Substitute)
Representing Comhairle nan Eilean Siar:
Mr K Murray, Mr R MacKinnon (Substitute)
Representing Orkney Islands Council:
Mr A Drever, Mr H Johnston
Representing Shetland Islands Council:
Mr A Cooper (by video-conference link)
Officials in attendance:
Mr M Holme, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services)
Mr S Edgar, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery)
Ms M Morris, Clerk
Mrs R Moir, Assistant Clerk
Mr S Taylor, Clerk’s Office
Miss J Green, Clerical Assistant
In attendance for item 4:
Mr J Baillie, Chairman, Accounts Commission
Mr P Reilly, Secretary, Accounts Commission
Mr F McKinlay, Controller of Audit, Audit Scotland
Mr D Sinclair, Deputy Chairman, Accounts Commission
Mr G Neill, Portfolio Manager, Audit Scotland
Ms C May, Member, Accounts Commission
Mr A Drever in the Chair
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mrs B McAllister, Mr G Mackenzie, Mr D Millar, Mrs M Paterson and Ms G Ross of The Highland Council, Mr I MacKenzie, Mr N Macleod and Mr C Nicolson of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Mr A Duncan of Shetland Islands Council.
2. Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
3. Minutes of Meeting of 7 June 2012
There had been circulated and were APPROVED Minutes of Board Meeting of 7 June 2012.
4. Accounts Commission – Best Value Audit - Discussions
The Board was reminded that, at its meeting held on 7 June 2012, it had agreed that arrangements be made for discussions with the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland on the recent Best Value Audit of the Board, to take place at a webcast Special Board meeting prior to the summer recess.
The Convener introduced the representatives present from the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland.
Mr John Baillie, Chairman of the Accounts Commission, thanked Members for the opportunity to have this meeting. He outlined the role of his organisation and that of Audit Scotland in holding local authorities to account. He reminded Members that, following the Best Value Audit of the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service by the Controller of Audit, the Accounts Commission had concluded that the Service – and indeed the Board – had not demonstrated Best Value or a sustainable approach to the delivery of Fire and Rescue services. Specifically, in summary, the Commission had found that:
• the Service’s approach to the deployment of stations and fire-fighters was
not based on a strategic use of Integrated Risk Management Planning
• there were serious weaknesses in how the Service managed its workforce,
for example in relation to training and health and safety issues
• the leadership and governance of the Service needed to be improved
• the Board needed to improve its scrutiny and challenge of the Service so as
to demonstrate proper decision-making and best use of public money and resources.
He further commented, however, that encouraging steps had already been taken to improve leadership and the quality of performance reporting. In addition, levels of officer training had increased and a programme of statutory fire safety audits was underway.
During discussion, Members raised a number of concerns/comments, including:
• Previous audits carried out, including by Audit Scotland, had told a more
positive story and had not identified shortcomings such as those now being highlighted.
• It was difficult for Members to know what information they lacked and
accordingly to ask the appropriate questions of officers to ensure they had all
the information they required to demonstrate proper scrutiny.
• The Board valued its staff and had trusted its officers to deliver a professional service.
• The remote rural nature of much of the Board’s area presented particular
challenges and inevitably higher costs; a “one size fits all” could not be
applied; rural communities had legitimate expectations that an emergency
intervention service would be provided to them.
• The Service’s rescue function – such as its role in responding to road traffic
accidents – was also vital to rural communities.
• A lot had already been achieved since the period during which the audit had
been carried out.
Accounts Commission/Audit Scotland comments in response included:
• The difficulty of identifying where performance information was lacking was
acknowledged; however, scrutiny was the Board’s responsibility and it had a
legal duty to secure Best Value.
• Audits of other Fire and Rescue Services/Boards had also revealed scrutiny
and challenge shortcomings.
• It was the responsibility of Members to seek appropriate training to develop
the skills they needed to carry out their function.
• It was the role of audit bodies to audit, not to manage; the latter
responsibility lay with Services and Boards.
• The focus of the recent Best Value audit had differed from earlier audits
conducted for other purposes and in a different economic climate.
• The Board had not demonstrated on-going risk assessment and best value
analysis of previous policy decisions, albeit these that might have been
appropriate decisions when originally taken.
• Intervention should not necessarily be the main focus, particularly in rural
areas; prevention strategies could be both more cost effective and more
successful in the rural context.
• The Integrated Risk Management Planning process allowed for adaptation to
meet rural circumstances.
• Best Value did not necessarily mean cheapest; what was important was to
achieve the best possible with available resources and to demonstrate
During further discussion, it was confirmed that Members had previously been invited to complete a Training Skills Analysis and a Member Development programme had been delivered.
Following discussion, the Board overall expressed the general view that it was important to take constructive lessons from the Audit report and to move forward on a positive basis, with a view to ensuring that the Service was placed on the strongest possible footing prior to transition to a single Fire Service for Scotland. The Accounts Commission/Audit Scotland welcomed the commitment being shown. Members were invited to identify their priorities for the coming months in the run up to transition. These included consolidation of the improvements already being put in place, such as the Safer Fire-fighter Programme, with its associated improvements in training, and the role of the Peer Support Team, together with the retention of as many Retained Duty staff as possible. Specific suggestions were made that the minutes of the Service’s Health and Safety Committee be reported to the full Board and also that the Scottish Government be lobbied to provide grants for the installation of sprinkler systems. The importance of Members continuing to develop their own critical skills was also recognised, as was the potential value in liaising closely with the developing Pathfinder projects within individual local authorities.
Mr Baillie confirmed that the Controller of Audit would continue to monitor the Service’s and Board’s progress in response to the Audit report and emphasised the importance of achieving as much as possible before transition to the single Service. He thanked Members for their useful discussion and their courtesy. Thereafter, the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Service Delivery) and the Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Foundation Services) each updated the Board on recent developments/progress within their respective spheres of responsibility.
Thereafter, having heard the Convener agree the importance of moving to the single Service in as good health as possible, the Board NOTED the position.
The Accounts Commission/Audit Scotland representatives left the meeting at 3.05 p.m.
5. Accounts Commission – Best Value Audit - Actions
There had been re-circulated Report No. Fire-30-12 (24kb pdf) dated 18 April 2012 by the Deputy Chief Fire Officer and the Clerk, previously circulated to the previous Board for its meeting held on 25 April 2012. At that meeting the Board had agreed to defer consideration of this item to an early meeting of the Board appointed following the 3 May 2012 local government elections, to be taken after discussions with Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission.
The report advised Members on the Accounts Commission’s findings on Audit Scotland’s Best Value Audit of the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service, a copy of which had also been circulated, together with Audit Scotland’s Improvement Agenda.
The Board was invited to acknowledge, consider and comment on the Accounts Commission’s findings and the Improvement Agenda.
After a brief discussion, the Board acknowledged the contents of the Accounts Commission findings and Audit Scotland’s improvement agenda in relation to the Best Value Audit of the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service and AGREED that a draft action plan be developed for the Board’s consideration on the issues noted in the findings and in the improvement agenda included within the Best Value report.
The meeting ended at 3.20 p.m.