Rural Fire Special Interest Group 10th March 2014

Present:-

Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage (Northants) - Chair
Cllr Peter Robinson (Lincolnshire)
Dave Ramscar (Lincolnshire)
Les Britzman (Norfolk)
Cllr Anne Stribley (Dorset)
Derek James (Dorset)
Mark Yates (Hereford and Worcester)
Cllr Stuart West (Shropshire)
John Redmond (Shropshire)
Graham Biggs (RSN)
David Inman (RSN)

Apologies:-
Martyn Emberson (Northants)
Ian Cartwright (Cumbria Fire & Rescue)
Andy Hicknott – CFO (Warwickshire Fire & Rescue)
Paul Collins – Area Commander (Suffolk Fire & Rescue)


1. Minutes Of the Last Meeting of November 2013
The minutes of the last meeting were agreed as a correct record.


2. Update on the Sir Ken Knight Report.
The position in relation to the Sir Ken Knight report was discussed. Having assembled all of the representations on the report the Government seemed as if they were not going to make any immediate announcements. The conference may know more but the feeling was the Government would not be rushed and would wait for a suitable strategic or political opportunity.

The Group agreed that no further action was needed at this time.


3. Financial Overview Generally.
A comprehensive discussion took place in relation to this item.


Comparison with other Fire Services

Dan Bates had tracked the position with other Fire Services over the year. The position was largely unchanged. In comparison with urban Services generally the urban plus was 37% per head; in comparison with just the Mets, the increase in per head funding was approximately 58%. This despite an acceptance that it cost more to operate the service than in urban areas.

The general LG situation was outlined:-
Sparsity Factor.
The government had increased the LG Sparsity factor by approximately a third and theoretically many Fire Services could, if the money got paid through pro rata benefit from this. However, the Government had heavily damped this amount and pressure needed to be kept on to try to get more of this released.

ESSSA and Rural Services Delivery Grant.

Pressure brought on the government had got them to introduce in 2013-14 a one off Efficiency Grant for super sparse areas. This for 2014-15 had been converted into a Rural Services Delivery Grant which was to be an annual payment. In the last few weeks this had been increased. The amounts were not high but the significance was that they were not subject to damping.

A study was now to be undertaken jointly by DCLG and DEFRA. The terms of reference were currently being agreed. It was in two stages and the preliminary findings from the first stage might assist rural in the 2015-16 budget. The RSN was to have a seat on the Steering Group overseeing the study. Every effort needed to be made to obtain input from all service elements and fire was an important part of this equation.

It was felt that the Group needed to be far more proactive in all of this and it was now time to seek to structure the group to bring in real evidence.

    (a) There was a need to try to engage a person with operational fire experience to assist the group harnessing relevant operational experience.
    (b) There was a need to engage a financial consultant, to work with the in-house experts from Group members, to shape a rural fire case.

It was decided to look how the group could be structured to go forward.


4. Structuring the Group.

It was decided as follows:-

A small charge would be introduced for 2014-15 for the twelve members as follows:-

    (a) For County Brigades where the County was in SPARSE Rural membership £100 + VAT p.a.
    (b) For County Brigades where (a) did not apply and for Combined Brigades £250 + VAT p.a.
(These charges would not apply to Brigades who were paying members (at £495 + VAT p.a.) of the RSP.)

When financial work was in future felt to be necessary, a brief and a costing would be established and it would be circulated to the 12 members asking if they were happy the brief would be productive and asking if they were therefore prepared to pay their percentage of cost to allow it to proceed.

The RSN confirmed that it would not issue media comment or press releases or start campaigning on any fire funding issues without the agreement of the group.


5. Emphasising the unique elements in the role of the Fire and Rescue Service

The following were felt to be particularly relevant:-

    (a) Retained Fire Station Operation.
    (b) Forestry and Heathland Fire
    (c) Greater involvement in road accidents
    (d) Flooding as demonstrated by recent events.

It was hoped these special factors could be widened out in consultancy work to bring County and Combined Services together to be able to argue a cohesive rural case.


6. Blue Light Collaboration- what elements are unique to rural

It was felt by most that there was greater opportunity for joint working in rural areas than in other areas. The situation needed to be examined in some detail to perhaps produce a rural operational stereotype.

Looking at the programme for the conference it was apparent that there was a lack of concentrated work on the rural position. The assumption was too often being made that ‘one size fits all’ and this was often to the detriment of fire services in rural areas.


7. Community Collaboration at the Rural Fire Service Level

It was felt that there was greater interface between communities in rural areas with their fire stations and services that there was in other areas. Quite often for social reasons the Fire operation lay towards the heart of the community and to an extent therefore underpinned such rural communities. It was important that this ‘parenting’ role was fully documented as it was important that at a time of decreasing services that it was fully appreciated.

Shropshire had some real evidence from a recent extensive consultation. This would be sent to the RSN and circulated to all group Members to build the evidence base


8. Terms Of Reference

The following terms of reference for the Group were agreed.

To seek to achieve maximum linkage between the operation of Fire and Rescue Services in rural areas and the communities involved.

To seek to share operational experience and best practice established through providing services in rural areas.

To argue the financial case relating to the additional costs of Fire and Rescue Services operation in areas classified as Predominantly and Significant Rural.

Address the Fire & Rescue Service issues which are unique or more prevalent in rural areas (retained fire service operation, open countryside fires and flooding and accidents involving classified roads are examples.)

These would go into the overall revised constitution for the Rural Services Network SIG as a whole.


9. Representative for RSN Rural Crime Group

The group nominated Martyn Emberson to work with this grouping.


10. Date for the Next Meeting.

It was decided to leave the date for the next meeting but seek to try to dovetail it with a time when officers/councillors were meeting. If there was urgent need for a group meeting however the meeting would take place on a separate day.

 

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