Page 19 - HOT NEWS MAY 2014
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Another series of Principal Officer briefings have now concluded which once again have demonstrated the level of knowledge and understanding held by you all in relation to the financial and operational challenges we face, irrespective of your role within the Service.
We delivered the same presentation on stations as we did to support service staff so that everyone was clear as to what effect the budget cuts will have across the whole organisation. Not surprisingly, the theme of the briefings was very much about how we intend to manage the impact of the latest round of Government cuts and the longer term implications for the Service.
After a decade of significant financial challenge there is a real danger of austerity fatigue but that is not a luxury we can afford. To deal effectively with a sustained and relentless reduction in our budget we have, again, had to consider every aspect of our service and plan well ahead of when we need to make the savings.
We recognise that to deliver four station mergers will take the best part of two years and that prior to the structural changes being implemented we will need to manage our appliance availability dynamically. I reported the current position to the Authority at the meeting of the Community Safety and Protection Committee on March 27 and then circulated the report and appendix containing the unavailability sequence All MFRS thereafter.
The next phase of the support service review was understandably high on the list of questions raised at Bridle Road meetings. We have made it clear that the process will be similar to the last review although this time it is self- evidently going to be more difficult to make the required savings without recourse to compulsory redundancy. Those who had a real interest in leaving the organisation have probably already gone and we are under no illusion as to how difficult the process will be for everyone.
Any staff who are interested in enhanced voluntary redundancy or early retirement should contact POD in the first instance and they will be given an indication of what their offer would be. If that offer is of interest the person should then discuss it with their manager to find out whether organisationally we can afford to lose the post.
It is unlikely we will be able to agree to every request for VR or VER as it has to make financial and operational sense to the Authority, but it is also likely that every post lost will have some impact on the Service. As with the operational changes we have to make it will often be down to the least worst option.
Questions at the briefings did vary, particularly at stations which were likely to be involved in the merger process. At those stations we were asked whether there would be one or two appliances at the new stations, what the offer would be if the second was available on wholetime retained and if that was not taken up by staff would we opt for community retained.
I’ve been as emphatic as I can be that my strong preference is for wholetime and wholetime retained and that community retained would be the last option. That was consistently supported by staff at all the Principal Officer briefings on station. But I have made it clear that a community retained second pump rather than no second pump at the merger stations would be viable.
The Knowsley station merger consultation process is already underway and I’m meeting Knowsley council leaders again to brief them on our next steps. Public consultation continues in June with open meetings in Whiston, Huyton and Prescot as well as focus groups in each area affected.
Staff at all the Knowsley stations will have the proposals explained to them at Watch meetings. There will also be a survey on our website for anyone to feed in their views on the proposed merger.
While the messages have often sounded bleak, the truth is that after all the cuts are made we will still have a faster operational response than most areas of the country and our firefighters will be better trained and more skilled than any other FRS in the UK.
As I explained at the briefings the budget process has risks in terms of delivery. Trying to keep wage rises below inflation for two more years, finding the right sites to locate new stations and maintaining enough support service capacity to deliver the required changes will be a significant task to achieve.
As we face the largest cuts in a single year and the likelihood of further grant reductions in the future we all need to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for the Service.
To reassure you, the Principal Officers, the Strategic Management Group and the representative bodies are all working together to make sure that is what we achieve.
Dan Stephens Chief Fire Officer

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