Agenda item


Purpose of report:


The Select Committee was provided with a report on progress of the implementation of the Making Surrey Safer – Our Plan 2020 – 2023 for the meeting held on the 24th March 2020.  This report provides a further update.




Denise Turner-Stewart, Cabinet Member for Communities


Steve Owen-Hughes, Chief Fire Officer and Head of Surrey Community Protection Group

Sarah Kershaw, Chief of Staff and Deputy Head of Community Protection Group



Key points raised during the discussion:

  1. The Cabinet Member stated that detailed work had been undertaken since the March meeting of the Select Committee. Phase one making surrey safer plan had been successfully implemented despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual statement of assurance had been published and refreshed in an engaging format to fully inform the public. Performance of the service had consistently improved since implementation of phase one. The service was awaiting the outcome of the Brunel University external validation assurance later this month.


  1. A Member thanked Surrey Fire and Rescue Service for its hard work during the Chobam wildfires and asked what welfare provision was provided for firefighters working in harsh conditions such as those at Cobham. The Chief Fire Officer stated that there was good welfare provision in place; a contract ensured that rapid relief were in place at major incidents. Welfare, including water and provisions, was provided on every fire engine and all firefighters carried a credit card to purchase additional supplies if desired. SFRS had received feedback from other fire and rescue services stating that the provision of welfare for their firefighters when working for SFRS had been very good.


  1. A Member questioned whether firefighter welfare was reviewed on a regular basis, especially for future major incidents. The Chief Fire Officer stated that a welfare review was under way and processes were being checked. The Chief Fire Officer assured the Committee that all concerns voiced by firefighters were listened to. The Cabinet Member gave assurance that welfare was prioritised in the service.


  1. A Vice chairman expressed concern about emergency response time and asked how COVID-19 had impacted this negatively. The Chief Fire Officer stated that although the start of lockdown traffic was significantly reduced, road traffic collisions that did occur during this period were more impactful and required a greater level of intervention. Lockdown had caused different incidents requiring different responses.


  1. A Member asked how the Service performed on recruitment and retention of staff and asked how many current vacancies there were in the Service. The Chief Fire Officer stated that of 664 posts, there were 59 vacancies which included 17 whole time firefighter vacancies. Across the whole service, there were 67 new members of staff recently employed. The recruiting cycle was ongoing however had stalled during the COVID-19 period. The Service was now able to recruit and train at all levels in the service. Internal promotions were encouraged as were pursuing different career paths within the service. Exit interviews were conducted with staff and the Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that the most common reasons for staff leaving the service were personal issues, new external opportunities and taking retirement. A Member requested that the Chief Fire Officer provide a breakdown of the number of serving firefighters and support staff.


  1. The Member also referred to the proportionately high level of retirements and questioned whether this would be an issue in the future. The Chief Fire Officer stated that reemployment and pensions rules did mean that some firefighters had to retire when they did not wish to; the Chief Fire Officer assured the Committee that the Service was good at promoting experienced staff from within and therefore loss of experience with retiring officers was not a problem.


  1. With regards to the Service’s retirement protocol, a Member asked whether there was scope for firefighters who had not been passed medically fit for active service, but who did not wish to retire from the service, to use their experience in a different field within the Service. The Chief Fire Officer confirmed that firefighters must achieve a fitness standard and pass medical tests to remain operational however the Service was exploring alternative avenues of work in non-operational roles for firefighters at retirement age who could not meet the standards required for frontline duty. In response to this, the Chairman asked how many firefighters had recently left the service and for what reasons. The Chief Fire Officer stated that he would circulate these figures after the meeting.


  1. The Chairman asked what the demographic of the SFRS workforce was. The Chief Fire Officer stated presently SFRS was unrepresentative of the community it served and that the culture needed to change to make SFRS an employer of choice for people of all backgrounds. The recruitment process was being altered in order to eliminate bias and actively diversify the workforce. Unconscious bias training would be key; policy and procedures were being analysed and departments being challenged on this issue.


  1. The Chief Fire Officer stated that the Service had learned a lot from engagement work, particularly that many operational staff were displeased about the change in shift patterns. A staff focus group would be convened to discuss these issues and other specific concerns; restrictions on shift patterns are defined in the Grey Book (national terms and conditions) and do not allow much room locally for deviation, however.  The Chief Fire Officer assured that all comments from staff were gathered by senior leadership teams and discussed in leadership meetings to inform actions.


  1. A Member questioned how effective the new ways of working had been in relation to performance data. The Chief Fire Officer explained that, since the new ways of working had been introduced, the performance data stated that the target for response times for critical emergencies was being exceeded by, on average, three minutes, whilst firefighters were getting to emergency locations faster by one minute, in comparison to the previous year, and in less time than the modelling data in the Making Surrey Safer Plan had predicted. These response times had been improved largely by the introduction of new technology and ways of working.


  1. A Member asked for assurance that response timing issues had improved. The Chief Fire Officer informed the Committee that the service measured risk growth minute-by-minute before an incident occurred, this enabled the service to move resources dynamically when required and based on the likelihood of that incident occurring. The Member requested that average figures for all fires were shared with the Committee in order to ascertain whether average response times had differed before and after the COVID-19 period. The Committee wanted assurance that changes were not having an adverse impact on communities. The Member requested a supplementary written answer.


  1. A Member asked the Chief Fire Officer asked whether the results of the independent assurance review by Brunel University would be published and whether the Select Committee would have an opportunity to address any issues risen. The Chief Fire Officer stated that the integrated risk management plan had not required independent validation however, due to the previous HMI report and rating, the implications would be significant, and the service wanted academic assurance that the service was improving. As the first service to undertake work in this way, HMI had hailed it an exemplary way of working. Phase two assurance by Brunel University would not be completed until the end of September; the changes advised would be published alongside the Service’s response to the plan and the adjustments and recommendations that would be taken on board.


  1. A Member asked that a Member Reference Group convene prior to the implementation of phase two. This was to be agreed after the Terms of Reference had been established.




Actions/further information to be provided:


i.              For the Chief Fire Officer to provide figures of the number of firefighters that had either retired or left the service.


ii.             For the Chief Fire Officer to share operational details of the dynamic coverage tool with the Select Committee.


iii.            For the Chief Fire Officer to provide assurance that any changes to the Service were not having an adverse impact (average figures for all fires to ascertain whether average response times had changed).


iv.           For the Chief Fire Officer to provide the ratio of serving firefighters and support staff to the Select Committee.





I.              Committee to convene a reference group for the duration of the Making Surrey Safer Plan to meet frequently with the Cabinet Member and Chief Fire Officer to review progress against the key metrics of improvement for Phase 2 as outlined in the plan.

Saj Hussain (Chairman), Fiona White, Mike Goodman, Jonathan Essex, John O’Reilly (ex-officio).


II.            The Reference Group to report back to this Committee with its findings on a regular basis (e.g. every other public meeting).


III.           The Committee to schedule public scrutiny of the improvement work prior to inspection in 2021 to its forward work programme.




Supporting documents: