A Response to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service by Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire s Police and Crime Commissioner

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1 A Response to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service by Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire s Police and Crime Commissioner New Delivery Model Community Safety Options 2015 Introduction and Background Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service (SFARS) have recently sought the views of the local community in response to its consultation on a new delivery model for the service. As with all publicly funded services, austerity, changing demand patterns and other factors will result in all organisations considering how they provide their services to the public. The fire service has like policing, experienced cost pressures and decreasing budgets. There is no doubt that under such circumstances it is right that the service reviews its operating model and looks to respond appropriately to the challenges faced. I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the consultation on the future of fire and rescue services in Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent. In considering the consultation document I have tried to understand the basis upon which these service delivery options have been made and the financial constraints that SFARS is under. This has included reviewing Staffordshire Fire Authority minutes, press announcements, previous consultations and other reviews relating to the wider fire service. The consultation document has proposed a Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service that delivers its services through a different workforce (size and mix) and a different asset base (estate, vehicles). There is an all or nothing option presented (33 stations / 42 appliances down to 15 stations / 15 appliances and changes to workforce mix i.e. no retained fire fighter roles) and also consultation documents that examine the future of nine individual stations. It is clear that if the all or nothing option is accepted, it would automatically preclude the need for considering further the nine local consultations. However, if this option is rejected, as I believe it should be, then the other documents fail to create a clear and cohesive strategy and present an uncoordinated plan. I am also unclear from reading the consultation document how the new 5.1 million proposals to build and develop more estate at Biddulph and Stafford over the next 12 months fits with the proposals put forward. These new builds are referred to in the documents, but given the proposed reduction in estate I would like to better understand the rationale for continuing with these commitments particularly as they would add to ongoing revenue costs. We can no doubt jointly agree that the focus of public safety, should always be, managing risk, protecting, and making our communities safer. This is not simply delivered through one emergency service, but through the collaborative and integrated effort of all service partners. Staffordshire Police and Fire have a history of working together on complex incidents and 1

2 major public events and are implementing integrated delivery proposals in selective areas e.g. transport. However, in my view there is much more that can be achieved for the benefit of residents in Staffordshire if a fully integrated police and fire service came to be, with a greater proportion of the overall resource pot committed to the frontline. The Consultation Documents The demand on the service has significantly decreased over recent years; within a five year period incidents have fallen by 51%. In 2009/2010 there were 16,884 incidents (beginning of PF1) but by 2012/2013 there was a significant drop in incidents of nearly 3,000 (-17.35%) to 13,949. This decline continued though to 2014/2015 where a there were a further 5697 (- 40.9%) fewer incidents reported giving an annual incidents number of just over 8,000. Stations and Appliances Currently, SFARS provides prevention, protection, and response arrangements for Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent from 33 stations, which supports 42 fire appliances in addition to a range of special appliances. The all or nothing option presented would reduce the number of stations to 15 supporting 15 fire appliances. It is understood that this proposal is underpinned by fire service software that calculates risk, tasking, coverage and response. The results have indicated best fit for a response base of fifteen stations. However, despite this option being put forward with this underpinning support, it is also highlighted that this option would result in the Service not achieving our attendance standard for life incidents on an additional 36 calls per year for the first attendance and 56 calls per year for the second appliance. Questions must be asked as to the reasoning for a proposal that is already destined to fail and the contradictory statements made? In order that I might better understand the stations identified for potential closure and those that would no longer have a response requirement, my office has compiled the following table, and highlighted the remaining stations with a white background and closures in pink. These stations have further been categorised under which building plan it came under. We also note from the consultation that SFARS continue to make considerable investment in [the] remaining stations. PFI 1 Stations Refurbished Stations PFI 2 Stations Existing Stations Burslem Barton-under-Needwood Burton Ipstones Cannock Cheadle Chase Terrace Biddulph* Hanley Wombourne Codsall Abbots Bromley Kidsgrove Longnor Kinver Tutbury Newcastle Leek Stafford ± Rising Brook Lichfield Eccleshall Sandyford Loggerheads Gnosall Tamworth (Belgrave) Longton Brewood Tamworth (Mercia) Penkridge Uttoxeter Rugeley Stone 2

3 * This includes a 5.1m DCLG grant funded projects at Biddulph and Stafford for 2015/2016 Capital Budget. ± It is understood that Stafford is excluded from the PFI projects as it was funded by Asda as part of a 3 million agreement in exchange for the old fire station grounds at Lammascote Road, Stafford and is around 15 years old. Of the total PFI 1 builds, nearly one third (three stations) will be closed to response requirements, and of the PFI 2 builds, over one half will be closed (six stations) and of the refurbished stations, one will be closed. In my view this calls into question the serious strategic judgement of both the Fire Authority and Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Despite a 25 years financial commitment for each PFI build, (including on-going estate maintenance and private management fees), it would seem that costs will be borne by the communities of Staffordshire and Stoke and Trent without the response provision. Questions need to be answered as to why, when the country was experiencing its most damaging recession in living memory, and experiencing acute austerity, did the PFI strategy continue? Whilst, it may be that discussions for the first programme of PFI were too far-gone between 2008 and 2009, to be able to withdraw from the scheme, the further round of PFI builds announced in 2011 and 2012, at a time when the incident demand was significantly falling and the impact of austerity was clearer, appears unwise at best. To increase significantly the number and long-term investment into stations only to cut them within three years lacks robustness, challenge and scrutiny. Reflecting on these financial issues, David Greensmith, Director of Finance, Assets and Resources for Staffordshire Fire Service, said in 2013: The net construction cost for the 11 sites is 29.6m. The PFI has been signed for a 25-year period commencing fully from March The final concession date is February The full unitary charge will commence when all stations have been completed with a total unitary charge payable of 127m payable during this period. This includes all capital costs, fees, lifecycle and facilities management costs during the 25-year period. (Express and Star 17/08/2013). Clearly this refers to 11 builds, and does not include the further 10 PFI and 4 refurbishment constructions. At present, SFARS commit at least 12% ( 5.2 million) of their budget to property and estates, which is a significant part of the overall budget and has a long-term nature to it because of the PFI commitments. One other aspect of the rationale for the builds was that the new stations will sit at the heart of the community and have been designed to be inviting and welcoming to the public. If a Community Fire Station (CFS) is to be reassigned or decommissioned there will naturally be a concern at the community level, but the consultation fails to address this heart of the community question. While the option to reduce appliances from 42 to 15 is substantial, any reduction in appliance numbers must be done on the basis of risk based evidence. Through the fire software, this calculation has already been undertaken, but the rationale has not been included fully in the consultation, or at least not clearly. With incident demands dropping by 51% since 09/10 it is right that an assessment of this nature occurs; however, it would have been helpful for more information on how the outcome was arrived at. 3

4 Whole-time, Part Time & Retained Fire Firefighters The consultation document proposes a move to a permanently staffed service, removing retained fire fighters (RFF) entirely. There are currently 499 fully trained on-call fire fighters covering mainly rural, off-peak hours and fire safety initiatives. In terms of whole-time fire fighters, there are 300, which will be increased by a further 90 under the proposal. With fewer overall fire fighters, the flexibility of the service will in my view suffer, especially if illness, training commitments, or other demands take fire fighters away from operational duties. It is noted that crew switching may alleviate some of the pressure, in that some fire fighters will be able to use a wider range of tools and appliances, including special appliances. As well as managing with smaller frontline numbers, my other concern is that the roles of permanent and retained fire fighters are different. Sir Ken Knight s 2013 report 1. Knight took account of the efficiencies and the future of the Fire Service in England and Wales, and acknowledged that whole-time crewing is starting to change to more flexible models and I was pleased to see a level of innovative thinking here (Knight, 28). Retained fire fighters are also a good example of making community engagement more effective; Knight goes further and says, retained duty staff, or on-call fire fighters are the backbone of provision for many fire and rescue authorities as calls have dropped, therefore, the on-call system has become more expensive on a per call basis but it still provides excellent value for money fire and rescue authorities need to think about what call volume they consider justifies a whole-time service. (Knight, p.31). In terms of cost and flexibility a retainer is currently 10 per cent of a whole-time fire fighter s salary, with additional payments made for training and attendance at incidents. (Knight, p.31). The important role of retained fire fighters is also reflected in a SFARS FOI response in This highlighted the role of retained fire fighters, who spend a considerable amount of time undertaking community safety over a wide range of activities and they have specific budgets to deliver these sorts of activities The consultation document does not identify how these activities will be carried out in the absence of the retained role. This is a significant gap, given the importance of early intervention and prevention. 1 Sir Ken Knight OBE, Facing the Future: Findings from the review of efficiencies and operations in fire and recuse authorities in England report (2013). 4

5 Summary In my view the consultation document creates and leaves a number of unanswered questions and lacks an underlying rationale that supports the proposals being made. Those questions are identified above, but primarily concern the following: - The contradictory nature of the all or nothing proposal and the lack of cohesiveness of the individual station proposals; The PFI based financial issues that arise, in particular the commitments and requirements place on SFARS as a result of the long-term contractual arrangements and how these align with the proposals; The lack of clarity of the impact on local communities arising from the proposals; The rationale behind the proposed changes to workforce mix, given the messages in the Knight report and in particular the impact on preventative work. I am also of the view that the financial challenges faced, which appear to be the main driver behind the proposals could be considered from an alternative perspective, that being around building an integrated service with Staffordshire Police, making the most of the opportunities that true integration could realise. I say a little more about these opportunities below. Opportunities for Integration and Collaboration Evidently, the need to move away from traditionally independent services is now necessary, towards a more collaborative, integrated public safety service. There is good evidence that supports innovation of this kind; for example, a good working relationship can already be seen in Northamptonshire, where both the Fire and Police senior management teams have co-located to police headquarters. Furthermore an active programme for joint police and fire stations is being developed in Northamptonshire. Such an approach can also ensure that back office operations become more joined up, processes simplified, and duplication reduced. For example, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Police, and the local county council expect to save up to 4 million a year with this approach. Direct benefits can be listed within three main categories: 1. Delivering a more preventative and early service to those in need of support A joined up service with an integrated response will use resources more effectively to ensure that victims of crimes, fires and anti-social behaviour receive an earlier and more preventative response and better standards of service. Utilising the different capabilities and capacities that the two services have will enable a more seamless approach to meet resident need, with better communication between those staff and officers on the ground. 2. Managing demand and maximising frontline resources A more joined up service will be capable of responding more flexibly and appropriately to demand. In Northamptonshire, it is estimated that more effective demand management will 5

6 enable productivity savings equating to 305 Officers or 16.5 million in public involvement and prevention activities. 3. Rationalising support activities A more joined up service will be capable of driving out non-frontline savings by combining and integrating services. In Staffordshire, this has already started with a joining together of transport servicing, repair and maintenance services, which is expected to deliver nearly 1 million of shared cashable savings and improved service at the same time. Other significant opportunities might include the following: - A single management team, Combined call centre & control room operations, Combined estates and property, Shared learning and development teams, HR Support, Communications, Joined up procurement, financial and insurance, Improved customer insight and business intelligence, Bringing together of governance, leadership, processes and policies, A joint approach to community engagement and volunteering. My view is that a very different approach to the future needs of the service and the opportunities that integration can create is required. The proposals put forward by SFARS do not consider this alternative approach, but there is an opportunity to do so. Matthew Ellis Staffordshire s Police and Crime Commissioner 22 nd May

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