P. 19
The latest round of Principal Officer briefings is coming to a close and the focus this time has been very much on the implications for the Authority and in particular for firefighters arising from the Government’s response to the Knight Review and the “independent review” of the Grey Book by Adrian Thomas, commissioned by DCLG.
While the firefighters’ dispute over pensions and the Unison dispute over pay continue and are undoubtedly important, the independent review could be even more significant. The outcomes of the review are likely to have far-reaching implications for the future of the Service, the terms and conditions of all staff and the mechanism as to how they are negotiated.
The Authority and firefighters have been sent questionnaires to complete, the structure and contents of which have been the subject of some debate for the Authority, CFOA and the representative bodies.
The Government has accepted all aspects of the Knight Efficiencies Review and this has no doubt influenced the direction of the Thomas review which covers recruitment, promotion, crewing policy, the use of retained firefighters, the Grey and Gold Book, collaboration with other services and industrial relations.
Specific areas which are being considered are the effectiveness of the National Joint Council arrangements and the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the right to strike for Firefighters.
In the briefings I have sought to describe what I consider the likely position to be for the Service by the end of the next Parliament if the current pattern of cuts continues when, you would hope, the country will be running a financial surplus and austerity will have come to an end.
Whilst not a position any of us would want by choice, an 18 station, 20 wholetime, 6 wholetime retained pump model, with an average response time of 6 minutes 30 seconds, would give
Merseyside a strong foundation on which to grow the Service from. Compared to the alternatives this will be my strong professional recommendation to the Authority.
This is only achievable, however, through the adoption of flexible working within self-managed teams, the undertaking of wholetime retained and through scaling support services appropriately to that size of organisation.
I will therefore continue to work with the representative bodies to reach agreements which allow all of our firefighters to access these flexible working arrangements and the additional financial benefits they bring to the individual and to the Service.
I recognise that achieving these outcomes will not be without its challenges. The ongoing national dispute continues to hinder our ability to reach agreements locally. There is, however, a limit to the time available to make progress before I have to pursue other alternatives.
We are about to commence a firefighter recruitment process aimed at attracting people into the Service who are prepared to give the levels of flexibility required to make the 2020 model a reality and to sustain that reality into the future. The numbers of people we recruit will be directly relative to the numbers we need to make the wholetime/wholetime retained staffing model work.
Our reserves face competing pressures and financially it makes sense to use them to fund the station mergers project rather than borrowing further. It is unlikely that we will receive anything like the £4.5 million funding we have bid for from the Transformation and Efficiencies fund to finance the station mergers. Whilst the Authority will always strive to avoid compulsory redundancies, this has only been avoided amongst non-uniformed staff through persons placed at risk taking voluntary severance when there has been in practice little other choice. We recognise this may not be possible in the future if reserves are committed to funding the capital programme. In these circumstances redundancy for all staff, including firefighters, is a real risk as we head into the next round of cuts.
The voluntary severance offer to all staff has seen a degree of interest with over 60 firefighter enquiries to date as well as a number from non-uniformed staff. There will shortly be an announcement on the terms which the Authority is able to offer firefighters which will be broadly commensurate with the offers made to non–uniformed staff.
In closing, I would like to thank everyone for their positive approach to completing the staff survey which ran during June and July.
In total 776 members of staff completed the survey, giving an overall response rate of 67%; which is excellent when compared to the industry average of 40%.
People Insight, our consultants for the survey, are in the process of analysing your responses and will be preparing reports and presentations for us to consider.
We should be in a position to share the details of these reports from October onwards.
Dan Stephens
Chief Fire Officer

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