Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
The Chief Executive presented a report on presentations that the Council receives from time to time from its key partners, which in turn, introduced representatives Huw Jakeway, Chris Barton and Councillor Pamela Drake from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, in order for them to give an update on the work of the Service to Council.
Mr Jakeway firstly gave a brief introduction of the South Wales Fire Service, that had been born from local government reorganisation in 1996, where 8 County Councils which had their own individual Fire Brigades then went to the 22 local authorities. Arising from this, he advised that the Fire and Rescue Services in Wales then became combined fire authorities. He then passed over to Mr. Barton to give some financial context in terms of their submission.
Mr. Barton advised that the South Wales Fire Service covered the following County Borough’s, that included a varying number of Fire Stations/establishments (47 in total) that also existed in each of these areas:-
• Rhondda Cynon Taf
• Vale of Glamorgan
• Merthyr Tydfil
• Blaenau Gwent
He confirmed that each of the constituent Authorities committed a budget towards the operation of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service that was in proportion of the population of each of the areas (Bridgend being 147,892), and in terms of Bridgend, this equated to in the region of £7.5m (just under 10%) of the overall budget. The Service also was supported financially by a nominal amount of grant funding allocation. A large percentage of this budget he explained, went to employees, but this also included resource for the likes of Transport, Supplies, Training, Premises, Pensions and Capital Finance.
Mr. Barton confirmed that in terms of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service budget history, there had been a cumulative change in its revenue budget contributions over the last number of years. In 2021-22 there had been an underspend in the service of £3.8m due to an over-estimate in pay awards. However, given the recent increase in inflation and interest rate rises, this had now transformed into an estimated overspend of anything between £1m to £3m. He explained that this year’s pay award was still being negotiated but it could well prove that the outcome of that would result in the year’s overspend being assisted by last year’s underspend. The future projection, was that in 2023-24, the budget consideration could account for a two year pay inflation in that year resulting in a further 10% being added onto the Services overall pay bill. He added that all 2022-23 overspends would be absorbed by the Service. The estimated potential £8.4m in financial pressures would equate to a 10.6% increase in the overall budget. The Service’s draft Budget would be considered later this year, he further added.
In terms of the Service Medium Term Financial Strategy and the financial outlook, Mr. Barton shared with Members the following:-
Year Potential increase in Budget
Mr. Jakeway then shared with Members the number of different services the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service supports, which included putting out wildfires and flooding rescues, supporting NHS colleagues, road traffic collisions and large animal rescues.
He added that the Service had also played a major role in community safety support, in incidents where fire is used to intentionally injure or kill.
The Service also reached out to schools, in order to educate young people about the dangers associated with fire. This included Fire Cadet courses for 14 – 18 year olds, including the Bernie programme where work had been undertaken at schools and colleges around the problem regarding deliberately setting of fires.
Mr. Jakeway also made reference to a Water Safety campaign that had been established in the Cardiff Bay location, in relation to safety measures connected with late night economy establishments and the public visiting these places and consuming levels of alcohol in an area close to water and the resulting dangers of this.
He advised that the Service undertook approximately 17,000 home safety checks each year, that included Fire Risk Assessments and involved the installation in homes of hardware equipment, as well as giving advice to homeowners etc about electrical safety measures residents should be mindful of.
The Service also had an active involvement with partner organisations around Sexual Abuse, Domestic Abuse and Human Trafficking, that included pathway signposting to referrals.
Mr. Jakeway then made reference to the Grenfell tragedy in London and that arising from this, the Service was actively looking at issues of cladding, particularly in any high-rise buildings, in order to check their fire safety resistance levels.
In terms of future challenges the Service faced, he confirmed that some of the main ones here were:-
· Industrial action (of Firefighters) due to pay dispute awards;
· Cost of Living crisis and the impacts of this;
· Governance and Funding Reform;
· Welsh Government’s ambitions;
· Challenges of Climate Change; and
· Ageing and population challenges
Mr. Jakeway then referred to the operational issues of the South Wales Fire Service, where he advised that almost all the investment that was made went towards making communities safe.
Prevention was considered extremely important, where a considerable financial commitment was made towards educating the public about areas of fire safety.
With support from Public Health Wales, smoke detectors were fitted at some homes where residents were also given anti-crime advice.
He paid tribute to the Operational side of the service, which was often unseen when compared to Fire Fighters.
The Control Room was where incidents were first reported, where the base there was connected to other emergency services, for example the Police.
Following the conclusion of the presentation, the Mayor opened up debate by asking Members if they had any questions for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service representatives.
The Deputy Leader noted that there may be industrial action at some point following a ballot that may be undertaken due to a challenge by trade union members to the proposed pay award. She asked if industrial action did take place, what resilience was there as back-up for frontline firefighting staff etc, should there be any strike action.
Mr. Jakeway confirmed that there was a very heavily unionised workforce in place within the Service. An example of this, was that in 2013-14 when there was a pay dispute, 1,500 staff took industrial action and due to this, the Service deployed military support from the ‘Green Goddesses’. However, this support was no longer available, so the service employed its own auxiliary firefighters which totalled around 65 in number. If any such strike action did take place in terms of specialised equipment, there would be a reduction to anything between 0 and 8 fire engines that would ordinarily be available to support service needs during any dispute.
Members expressed some concerns regarding this and the subsequent danger this would cause to the public.
A Member raised some concerns regarding climate change and due to this, the potential increase for grass and forestry fires. He asked if the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service had extra resources in place to deal with this
Mr. Jakeway confirmed that the Service was working collaboratively with Natural Resources Wales, in order to ensure that landowners manage vegetation etc on open areas and mountain sides, to ensure that any fire that may start there is managed and put out quickly by the emergency services. South Wales firefighters had in the past, also been assisting out in Greece where there had been some major fires on wasteland caused by the heat. In the case of any fire that did get out of hand and was spreading on land such as this, then aircraft could also be used to carry water and drop this over the area in order to extinguish the fire. He added however, that preventative measures and educating people was also so important in order to avert issues such as this occurring.
A Member referred to an operational response to problems associated with fire and the like. She noted that the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service visited schools in order to educate children of most ages. She asked if this was carried out as part of a set programme or was it also reactive upon request, if there was a problem with lighting of fires at any particular location.
Mr. Jakeway replied that the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service adopted both of the above methods.
She also asked, if Members or the public were aware of any issues with property or buildings where there may be health and safety risks such as cladding that is not fit for purpose, could they bring this to the attention of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service so that they could investigate.
Mr. Jakeway welcomed this, though ultimately any remedial or upgraded works to make the property safe, was the responsibility of the buildings Responsible Officer. He added that there may be problems that existed in certain high-rise buildings with cladding, however, there were tighter building regulations that were now in place regarding the safety of buildings to this end. The Service could audit buildings to see if they were safe, following any complaints of this type of nature being received and request that the Responsible Officer makes good these or if not, declares the building unsafe for habitable use.
A Member asked what role the retained Fire Brigade has in the County Borough and would the role extend now there were constraints that had emerged with regard to public finances.
Mr. Jakeway advised that the retained Fire Brigade were part of the wider South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and on a defined salary scheme. Some of these staff were on-call with others being whole time. The retained contingency had the same level of kit and training etc, as whole-time staff.
A Member asked if there were any plans to combine any working establishments such as the Fire and Rescue Service with other emergency services, for example the Paramedics, Lifeguard Services or even the Police.
Mr. Jakeway advised that there were no such firm plans for this in the Llynfi Valley at this time, however, it may be possible in other areas and options such as this could be considered going forward, where a sufficient case could be made for this. There were training difficulties however, for employers from the different services to cross over. An example being that whilst Firefighters were trained to deal with cases of trauma, there was insufficient budget available for them to be trained as, for example, a Paramedic.
The Member also noted that sometimes car vehicle owners parked their cars over fire hydrants which could result in a highway problem. He asked if there were any moves afoot to make this a criminal offence.
Mr. Jakeway advised that he had no knowledge that there were plans to enforce this activity, adding that it was fairly straightforward if there was an urgent need to access a fire hydrant to move any vehicles obstructing these with essential fire safety equipment.
The Mayor at this point of the meeting, thanked Officers from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service for attending at today’s meeting, giving their submission and responding to questions from Members.
RESOLVED: That the report of the Chief Executive and the accompanying presentation be noted.
Publication date: 23/05/2023
Date of decision: 16/11/2022
Decided at meeting: 16/11/2022 - Council