To receive a presentation from the acting Chief Fire Officer on the top six issues currently facing Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS)
Mark Preece continued with his presentation to provide members with an overview of the local fire and rescue service picture.
Members were reminded of the governance arrangements for Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) and were shown a map highlighting the locations of the County’s 21 fire stations. Additionally, the mission and strategic aims of GFRS; an overview of the senior leadership team at GFRS; the service values of GFRS; and the financial context for the service were explained to the Committee.
Members were provided with the workforce data for GFRS, which had been broken down by gender and ethnicity. It was noted that as of April 2019, there were 65 female firefighters (whole-time and on-call) and 10 from minority ethnic backgrounds. It was understood that GFRS was continuing to work to improve this through positive action campaigns.
Data was provided to the Committee regarding the activity of GFRS between April 2020 and March 2021, which included attending 5100 incidents in total and completing 2144 Safe and Well visits. It was understood that the number of these visits was reduced during this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
One member asked whether businesses also received Safe and Well visits? It was understood that businesses are categorised between low and high risk and that this determined how often they might be inspected. For example, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital might be inspected once or twice a year, whereas a local newsagent might only receive a visit once every 10 years.
The results of the HMICFRS Inspection 2018/19 were discussed with the Committee, in particular that two causes of concern had been identified relating to its fire safety strategy and the values and structure of the service. Work to address these was ongoing, however 11 new members of staff had been recruited to address concerns with fire safety, and new values had been introduced.
GFRS was also subject to a number of internal audits which resulted in 118 audit recommendations. These had now been actioned, subject to sign off.
Members noted that the second HMICFRS Cause of Concern visit in February 2021 had highlighted the positive progress and improvements that had been made, although acknowledged that more work needed to be done. It was explained that improvement was a journey and that it could take another 3 to 5 years before the service really made headway.
The Committee was provided with an overview of the response of GFRS to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had included ambulance driving; delivering PPE and medical samples; and delivering infection control and prevention training packages to care home staff.
One member asked for clarification as to how the HMICFRS inspection is graded. In response to a further query on receiving the results of the next inspection in September this year, it was explained that the full report would not be released until spring 2022.
The Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Parking and Libraries, Cllr Dave Norman, confirmed, in response to a query, that additional money from the Council budget had been allocated to GFRS for the last two years in order to increase recruitment. They also advised that the next HMICFRS inspection may still be tainted as a result of GFRS having to deal with two challenges: firstly, the challenging first HMICFRS inspection report, and secondly the historical internal audit issues.
One member queried what had brought on the decline of the service? In response, it was understood that a number of issues had contributed including previous efficiency savings and management style and culture, as well as changes in legislation.
Members discussed the limited scrutiny GFRS had received from scrutiny committees previously, and welcomed the opportunity to solely focus on properly scrutinising the fire and rescue service through this newly established committee.
Mark Preece continued his presentation to discuss details regarding the Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) and the Improvement Strategy. It was understood that the CRMP was currently being worked on and was made up of 8 objectives. It was noted that the CRMP would be presented at this Committee before it is considered by Cabinet.
In response to a member query, it was explained that those identified as vulnerable were able to receive alarm fitting from GFRS.
There was a further member query as to what GFRS was doing to meet its objective for recruiting more female and minority ethnic fire fighters? In response it was understood that GFRS was hosting open evenings and taster days, however it had to overcome a damaged reputation, and address the lack of understanding as to how racism affects individuals communities amongst the service. Cllr Norman explained that recruitment issues were affecting fire and rescue services across the Country and that we should be going into communities to engage rather than expecting them to come to us.
The Committee noted that a members awareness session was being organised to take place in the autumn at the SkillZone.