We have now officially closed the consultation period of
our new corporate plan / operational strategy. Though if people
still want to make comment we will not completely ignore
This has been the largest consultation exercise we have ever
done and has involved a huge effort - and we have had a lot of
Although its probably a sign of the times that, unlike in the
past, when changes to 'fire' would have evoked a huge emotional
response from the public, we have really not seen that.
Rather people have been able to take a much more analytical
perspective and ask searching and important questions to test the
validity of our thinking and to assure themselves we are not just
responding to financial situation in any knee-jerk way.
Of course there have been concerns expressed - not least by
staff and their representatives - but here too, among the concerns,
we have seen realism and constructive suggestions made.
For example in the Fire Brigade Union's response they are
seeking a review of a number of our operational policies - for
example, our policy on 'drive to arrive' (driving under two tone
horns and blue lights) and our response to fire alarms. And they
make good points about how we may well need to adapt them to
reflect changed circumstances.
So we will be advising the Authority that we agree and we will
undertake these reviews - and we should do so in the spirit of
partnership with trade unions so we do see changes in these
We have now called an extraordinary meeting of the full Fire
Authority next month so we can do justice to putting the outcomes
of consultation in to the public domain - and giving them proper
consideration and debate - before any final decisions are
As we say in both documents, our options are limited - because
we have significant constraints financially and the council tax
freeze grant (a one year only grant to keep council tax down) has
actually worsened the situation in the medium term (in future we
will somehow have to make up the shortfall when the grant is
So we were also open to alternative ideas arising from
consultation about what else we might do to balance our approach
and the finances.
I make these points really to try to manage expectations. The
elected members will want to give proper consideration to feedback
from everyone - the public, key stakeholders and staff - and they
are anxious to ensure they do get all the feedback to
But at the end of all of that there remains a decision to be
made, a requirement to balance the budget and provide the best
And its true to say that while we have had some great feedback
and some constructive suggestions for changing our approach (as
illustrated above) there has been a recognition that we have put
enormous effort and deep thinking in to the future.