A report setting out propopsals for the adoption of a resourcing to risk model for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Cabinet Portfolio Holder – Councillor Andy Crump
This report was introduced by Councillor Andy Crump, Portfolio Holder for Portfolio Holder for Fire & Rescue and Community Safety who thanked the public speakers who had engaged earlier in the meeting. Councillor Crump explained that the report set out a proposal to enter into a meaningful consultation over a 13 week period. Whilst there was speculation regarding station closures and budget cuts, this was not part of the proposals and it would, therefore, be important to ensure that accurate information was provided as part of the consultation.
Councillor Crump explained that the HMICFRS Inspection Report, considered at item 9 of the agenda, was a key driver for the proposals as it highlighted the need for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service (WFS) to make the best use of its resources. Councillor Crump quoted from the report, emphasising that the workforce model did not allow WFRS to carry out its core functions effectively and efficiently and that the Inspectorate welcomed review of the mix of crewing and duty systems, including analysis of its response cover. Councillor Crump went on to explain that there were two further key drivers for the proposals, one regarding on-call availability and attendance times. Statistics regarding these two points were set out in the report.
Councillor Sarah Boad considered that it was important for the Fire Service to look at the best way to serve its communities and the issues that the proposals were seeking to address had previously been raised at overview and scrutiny. She had been clear as part of her position on the Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) Assurance Panel that a full consultation was crucial, involving public meetings for communities to ask questions. She hoped that all County Councillors could engage in the consultation activities to talk to their residents about the proposals.
Councillor Isobel Seccombe also stressed the importance of ensuring that the consultation was as user-friendly as possible to avoid any misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
Councillor Jerry Roodhouse sought clarification on the commencement and length of the consultation.
Councillor Crump advised that the communication strategy would ensure that there was no ambiguity in the consultation and that legal advice would be sought on the proper length of the consultation. Councillor Seccombe indicated her understanding that the consultation would commence in December 2023 and end in March 2024, with the main body of engagement taking place in the new year.
Councillor Heather Timms noted her experience working with the Citizens Advice Bureau which had developed a different way of attracting and training volunteers to deal with the additional demands of the cost of living and related this to the difficulties set out in the report. Councillor Crump agreed that there were potential opportunities to engage more volunteers and attract more diversity as well as improving availability.
Councillor Jan Matecki referred to the points made during the public speaking session and reiterated the need for meaningful data and statistics. He also noted that the safety of residents was a primary driver for improving the system. However, he acknowledged that Cabinet was being asked to approve a consultation and urged local residents to engage in that process.
Councillor Isobel Seccombe recalled the tragic events in Atherstone 16 years ago and how volunteer firefighters were often drawn from several generations of a family. She recognised how blessed the Council was to be able to call upon these volunteers who sought to keep their communities safe but she also recognised that there were changing circumstances which meant that fewer volunteers were available and HMICFRS was asking WFRS to review the position in order to keep residents safe. A full and thorough consultation would take place and she urged people to keep an open mind and not just assume there would be fire station closures.
Councillor Andy Crump echoed comments regarding a reluctance for people to volunteer, not just because individuals were busy with work pressures, but also that their employers found it difficult to release staff to be on-call. He reiterated that there were not proposals to close fire stations and reflected on the changing climate and how that impacted on the requirements for a more reactive and efficient fire service. In proposing the recommendations, he emphasised that Cabinet was being asked to endorse a consultation on the plans in the paper and was not approving any of the options.
1. Supports the adoption of the resourcing to risk model for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service as set out in the report.
2. Supports proceeding to staff, stakeholder and public consultation on Delivery Model 2a and authorises the Chief Fire Officer, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Fire & Rescue and Community Safety to take such steps as are necessary to undertake the consultation, and to report back to Cabinet in due course.