Fire authority responds to MP’s questions on fire chiefs salaries and �300,000 per annuam PR spend

A CAMBRIDGESHIRE MP has questioned why the county’s fire service needs a �190,000 chief and three deputies earning up to �150,000 a year.

The fire service today issued a 1300 word statement and said the MP’s comments- and the fire authority’s response- would be considered at next month’s fire authority meeting.

“By comparison the chief constable of Cambridgeshire has a remuneration of �133,000”, said Steve Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs.

The MP published a copy of a letter he has sent to the fire authority chairman, Councillor Roy Pegram, requesting information on expenditure ranging from the �300,000 year spent on PR to car allowances of �128,000.

“Before they start cutting front line services, I’d like to know what some of this expenditure is and whether it is more essential than front line services,” said Mr Barclay. “For a small rural force serving 750,000 people it claims to be one of the most efficient but I have simply approached the task as if I was on the public accounts committee in the House of Commons.”

He has listed nine areas of expenditure by the fire authority which he feels need more detailed explanation including questioning why Cambs has “one station manager or above for four every four full time fighters”.

He also wants to know why some officers can retire at 50, why a budget item of �1.99 million and defined as ‘other services and supplies’ had increased by over �1 million in two years, and why �196,000 is being spent this year on consultants.

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Mr Barclay also wants to know “why was �650,000 available to set aside for a management of change fund? Significant back office savings have been identified this year. How much was saved in back office costs last year and why was any saving now identified as waste not achieved earlier.”

The MP said he was surprised to discover Cambs fire service was spending �300,000 year on a press officer that include:

A full time community engagement and consultation officer

A full time web coordinator

A full time media and communications assistant

A full time design and communications officer

A full time press and PR officer

A head of media and communications

Mr Barclay said having reviewed the accounts and papers of the fire authority, he had questions too over the projected savings of closing Manea fire station (�100,000) and cutting a second appliance from March (�80,000).

The MP said fire fighters were “obviously concerned” over their future and he had written to all Cambridgeshire MPs to keep them posted about his questions.

THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS WERE ISSUED TODAY BY CAMBS FIRE SERVICE.

Councillor Roy Pegram, chairman of the Fire Authority said: “We thank Mr Barclay for his letter and I will be raising his concerns and sharing his letter at our Fire Authority meeting in May, when I shall be briefing members on the responses too.

The Service is managing a project to identify where cuts can be made to find the �4.4million we need to over the next four years and they are doing this in a very carefully considered and effective manner. Many of the areas Mr Barclay has raised are already being reviewed as part of this project.

“It is important to stress that no decisions have been made. The Service will initially present to the Fire Authority outcomes from feasibility studies and then we will decide if any of the areas should be taken to the next stage for a more detailed project. We will then see the outcome of this before making a final decision. The Service has already identified half of the savings to cover the next two years so any decisions will not be fully implemented until 2013.”

Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg added: “I cannot reassure people that we won’t make any cuts to the frontline as even taking everything out of the back office that we can, we will still need to find savings from the frontline. I can guarantee though that we will do everything we can to minimise the impact any cuts will have on our service delivery.”

The fire service offered this point by point response to Mr Barclay:

1. I understand there are 34 Station Managers and 16 more senior grades in Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service yet just 206 full-time fire fighters manning appliances, with a further 400 retained fire fighters and a small number of training officers. Please could you clarify why one Station Manager or above for every four full-time fire fighters is the most cost effective management structure?

Our management structure allows for the appropriate command at incidents and having this available 24/7 365 days a year. It is not based on how many managers we need to manage people or functions which other organisations base their management models on. We have cut the number of station managers by four over the last year and one of the reviews currently ongoing is looking at our incident command requirements to see if we can make further reductions. Independent analysis shows that Cambridgeshire FRS has one of the lowest numbers of managers than any other fire service in the country.

2) Senior staff remuneration includes �190,000 for the Chief Fire Officer, and �150,000, �140,000 and �130,000 for the three principal officers respectively. By comparison, the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary has a remuneration of �133,000. I understand some officers are able to retire at 50, with the remainder having the option to retire at age 55. Please will you make public the rationale for the current level of senior salaries?

The figures quoted for police and fire officers are not comparable. One includes on-costs, the other doesn’t. Our Chief Officers are paid well but run a fire and rescue service recognised by the Audit Commission and by peers from other fire and rescue services as performing exceptionally well. CFRS is also the lowest cost fire service in the country per head of population - the senior management team have been reducing the overall costs of the Service year on year and will continue to do so.

3. The Press Department at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service includes six members of staff and costs �300,000. Please could you clarify why this level of media management is essential for a small rural force?

The Media and Communication team does not just deal with the media – that is just one responsibility of the team. It plays an important part in delivering community safety messages to local communities through a number of different channels, with the aim of reducing fires and other emergencies and related deaths and injuries. They also have responsibility for internal communication, design, print management, campaigns, the website, social media, marketing, event management, photography, consultation and community engagement.

As part of the review into support functions, the media and communication team and the functions it currently delivers will be scrutinised to see if savings can be made.

(Note for media, the budget cost is the overall budget the team has to deliver their work, it is not just salary).

4. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority Budget Book includes a cost of �1.77 million on page 19 defined as “Other services and supplies.” This item has increased by a �600,000 since last year. Please could you explain what this covers and why it has increased by such a large sum?

This is made up of a number of things. The main cost within this budget is around the temporary fire station in Cambridge which is required while the old station is knocked down and redeveloped. This will happen this year. The other main area is for an investment in our IT systems which will help drive out efficiencies in future years.

5. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service will spend �196,000 this year on consultants (Budget Book, page 18). Please will you clarify why this is essential? A further �144,000 is being spent this year alone on office furniture and equipment. If back office staff are being reduced, why is this necessary?

The consultants costs include specialist support for IT systems and one off pieces of work where it would not be cost effective to employ someone permanently.

The office furniture and equipment budget includes printing, mechanics tools and office furniture.

Both budgets are already being reviewed this year to see where savings can be made.

6. �1.6 million of back-office savings has been identified this year alone. How much was saved in back office costs in previous year, and why in your view was any saving now identified as waste not achieved earlier, and why was �650,000 available to set aside for a Management of Change fund?

�650,000 was set aside on the basis that this Service would not want to make compulsory redundancies. Its purpose is to fund the phasing of redundancies (fill any short term budget gap), if required. It may also be used to fund redundancy payments.

The money saved is not waste. Some of the money can be cut as it is from budgets that we used to spend but due to different ways of working, more efficient processes, better procurement etc we no longer need. This is a year on year process. Some of the savings that have been identified are from areas that we could have made improvements to the Service in but because of the financial situation we have decided that they are a ‘nice to have’ rather then an essential requirement. Improvement in our Service will be slower as a result of these cuts.

7. The IT budget this year will be �880,000, yet just �50,000 in 2014/15. This includes �300,000 spent this year on new laptops and desktop computers. Given the reductions in back office staff, how much less is this than was originally forecast, is it being procured with other forces, and could the renewal process be staggered?

Our IT systems are getting to the end of their useful life and cannot cope now with the demands put on them by the Service. IT use within the Service continues to expand with firefighters heavily reliant on the being able to use the IT system day and night.

The current PCs and laptops cause many frustrations for members of staff and staff are not working as efficiently as they could due to these continuing problems. The PCs that need upgrading are not just for back office staff but for frontline firefighters and officers too.

By 2014/15 we would have completed much of the upgrade which is why the budget in this year is forecasted at a lower amount.

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