To consider a report from the Chief Fire Officer, which details the outcomes of the formal public consultation exercise on the proposed creation of a new fire authority for Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton and Hampshire.
The Authority considered a report from the Chief Fire Officer (item 7 in the Minute Book) regarding the proposed creation of a new combined fire authority for the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton and Hampshire. The proposals followed a business case put forward to the Authority on the 14 June 2018 and a subsequent twelve week consultation across all of the authorities areas.
The consultation had resulted in 311 responses, 300 of which were from individuals. Whilst this was a proportionally low response, representing circa. 0.015% of the areas population, it was seen as reassuring that there was apparent little concern from the public regarding the proposals. All views submitted had been analysed and considered, and 53% of the responses were in support of the proposals.
The Chief Fire Officer emphasised that whilst the concerns raised were proportionally low, all had been addressed within the report and the majority were a result of a lack of understanding as to the arrangements proposed.
Discussion pertaining Paragraph 24 in the report summarised the risks and benefits to the proposed combined fire authority, but emphasised the top priority for officers was to protect the public and maintain an effective Fire Service, with efficiency and effectiveness being immediate benefits.
The Chief Finance Officer took Members through the finance section of the report and highlighted the fourth bullet point in paragraph 37, which confirmed just over £4m of liabilities that would need addressing over the next five years. This had reduced by £1m from previously presented figures due to further work on the vehicle programme. The liabilities are what was expected and whilst the business case would need updating for 2019/20, most positions would stay the same with no material impact. Should the proposals be agreed, the Home Office would be approached regarding funding to cover the transitional arrangements.
The possible governance and proportionality arrangements were addressed in paragraph 49 of the report, and Members were reassured that this was something that would be managed at a later date, in consultation with the Home Office. All views would be taken into account and nothing was yet affirmed regarding the proportionality.
In debate, some Members shared their concerns regarding the finance aspects of the proposals and the impacts these would have on Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS), as HFRS had good budgets and reserves for work and improvements to Hampshire stations. It was questioned whether the money Hampshire tax payers had paid should be spent on stations on the Isle of Wight that needed more urgent attention. The Chief Finance Officer reassured the Authority that technically no money was explicitly put aside for station improvements, and this was currently covered by borrowing built into the Medium Term Financial Plan. It was hoped that the Home Office would be able to offer upfront financial support, but formal talks could not take place until a proposal was approved and ready to take forward.
The concerns raised by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on page 84 of the pack were highlighted and it was confirmed that meetings with the FBU since the consultation document had been composed were very positive and the concerns listed had been addressed. Subsequently, the FBU were now in support of the proposals.
Members agreed that approaching the Home Office for funding was very important and something that should be incorporated into the recommendations should the proposals be approved.
The Chairman welcomed comments from Cllr Tig Outlaw, Isle of Wight Council and Michael Lane, the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Cllr Outlaw told the Authority how the staff that had been met with understood the benefits of having a CFA and agreed that it was the right way forward. He echoed concerns regarding proportionality but was assured that the new Authority would represent the whole area equally and there would be no segregation as a result of proportionality. The Isle of Wight had £700k of reserves to contribute towards the plans, which was a significant amount for the Authority and would look financial contributions to be more equal going forward in the long term.
Michael Lane emphasised the importance of keeping people safe, and felt that this was the most effective way to continue for both Authorities and in the public’s best interest. The Police and Crime Commissioner welcomed being involved in the meeting and thanked Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Authority for their work.
Geoff Howsego and his team were also thanked for their hard work during the business case and consultation process to date.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority:
Noted the outcomes of the consultation exercise that
did not suggest significant public concern or a statistically
significant view for or against proposed CFA; and
B) Agreed to proceed with the submission of a proposal to the secretary of state for the creation of a new Combined Fire Authority covering the Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, and Southampton area on the basis of the previously published business case. The Authority delegated authority to prepare and submit the formal submission, along with an application to the Home Office for transitional funding, to the Chief Fire Officer in consultation with the Chairman of the Authority, the Chief Finance Officer and the Monitoring Officer.