Agenda item



To put questions, if any, to the designated Members on the discharge of functions of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority and South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, in accordance with Standing Order No. 7(5).


(1)  Councillor Short asked would the Police and Crime Panel representative on the Council give a lay man’s outline of what the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Council Tax Precept meant to his Ward residents?


Councillor Sansome confirmed that for the new financial year 2018/19 the Government had frozen its grant funding and so the Police and Crime Commissioner would need to increase the precept in South Yorkshire in order to cover the costs of the police officers’ pay award, increase costs for transitioning to more visible neighbourhood policing across the county and the ongoing costs associated with legacy issues, such as child sexual exploitation in Rotherham (investigation and civil claims) and the Hillsborough disaster (civil claims).


Residents who took part in the consultation made it clear to the Police and Crime Commissioner they would be prepared to pay more to see more police on the streets.  The last Chief Constable, David Crompton, oversaw the reduction of 500 police officers and office staff and also removed any semblance of neighbourhood policing. 


The Panel’s position, a meeting which Councillor Sansome chaired, stated very clearly that if any proposed reduction in officers or backroom staff was forthcoming then it would veto the budget.  The new neighbourhood model that Members would have chance to view and challenge in April would see more joined up working with partners with a commitment with the Chief Constable to gradually increase officer numbers and provide better flexible working. 


The Police and Crime Commissioner was committed to reducing his substantial reserves of over £20 million by up to £7.3 million.  This reduction in reserves was key as it would allow the increase in the precept to be centred on policing and making residents feel safe.  For the first time as a Police and Crime Panel a small cross party group would scrutinise the budget on a six monthly basis and would report back as and when required.


The Police and Crime Commissioner’s budget would reduce and the Police budget would increase by £3 million.  Local partnership grants would be negotiated as previous years with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.


For this financial year the maximum increase under Government rules was the equivalent to £12 per annum (23p per week) on a property in Council Tax Band D. Most properties in South Yorkshire were either Band A or Band B whose increases would be £9.33 and £8.00 annually respectively, which worked out as an increase at 18p (£9.33) and 15p (£8.00).


Councillor Short thanked Councillor Sansome for his answer and for the reassurance that money was being taken from the budget and reserves to put more police officers on the beat and he would advise his constituents accordingly.  By contrast, however, the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services were sitting on £27.4 million and would not reinstate the second fire appliance in Rotherham.


(2)  Councillor R. Elliottreferred to the last full Council where it was stated that Rotherham's second appliance would be reinstated when finances were available. Latest SYFR budget predicted a £2.2 million underspend 2018/19 with £25 million reserve plus a four year funding agreement with the Government.  He asked if the finance was there when would the second appliance be reinstated?


Councillor Atkin confirmed South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue had suffered severe cuts to its budget, having lost around £12.5 million in Government funding since 2010 – a 29% reduction. The medium term financial plan actually predicted a small deficit of up to £0.5 million by 2019/20.


The Service was now in a relatively stable financial position, although there remained considerable uncertainty about finances beyond 2020 and there were still on-going risks to the current budget.


However, in light of the concerns that Members expressed in the last meeting, the Chief Fire Officer had been asked to discuss the issue with Scrutiny Members and it was hoped that the discussion would help to move this issue forward.


In a supplementary question Councillor R. Elliott asked why were the Council waiting for the Scrutiny meeting when this issue was urgent.  Why was this Chamber’s motion concerns not brought up and discussed at last week’s Fire Authority meeting.


Councillor Atkin explained the decision about the second appliance in Rotherham was made back in 2013 and in the last four years this had never been an issue.  Only recently had the issue been brought up.  Reference was made to the four year plan that the Government offered the Fire Authority for efficiency savings resulted in changes to the way that the Fire Service crewed certain appliances.  A four year plan would not have been granted had the working methods not changed.


(3)  Councillor R. Elliott referred to a large fire in Dalton recently where six appliances attended including one each from Rotherham, Maltby and Dearne whilst there was one parked up in Eastwood Station. This situation left Maltby and Dearne areas seriously short of cover and he asked did Councillor Atkin think this was acceptable?


Councillor Atkin could understand the concerns raised. However, it was normal for larger scale incidents to be dealt with by fire engines from a number of fire stations, depending upon the nature and the scale of the incident. On these occasions, the Service’s response to other 999 incidents was provided by other, nearby stations. This situation was exactly the same for any other fire and rescue service in the country.


In a supplementary question Councillor R. Elliott pointed out a DRM vehicle was stationed at Eastwood which was used for incidents of suspicious packages etc.  It took two members of staff to operate this vehicle and was on call 24 hours a day.  Therefore, if it was called out on nights Rotherham would be left with no cover.  He asked did Councillor Atkin think this was acceptable given that there was also no beeper service for Rotherham Fire Station like there was for Maltby and Dearne.


Councillor Atkin explained on nights in Rotherham one pump was permanently available.  The second one was available after a short delay.  This practice was no different to many other stations in South Yorkshire and across the country.  Six pumps attended in Dalton, which would have come from other areas where resources were deployed to particular incidents and common practice.


(4)   Councillor R. Elliott explained in the next financial year SYFR were going to invest £20 million of its reserves into “secure investments“ and he asked would Councillor Atkin advise where the interest on this investment went.


Councillor Atkin explained the statement was in reference to the Service’s intention to spend a significant proportion of its reserves over the next few years on necessary capital projects, including investments in equipment, vehicles and buildings for firefighters. This would leave a much smaller amount of other earmarked and general reserves (expected to be around £5 million), to provide for other initiatives and unexpected future costs, such as insurance and operational contingency. It was not the case that the money was being invested in some sort of commercial activity as it would appear to be suggested.


In a supplementary question Councillor R. Elliott would re-read the statement as he must have read it wrong as he thought Councillor Atkin was going to report that the interest was going to be paid for the increase in allowances that was going to be paid to Fire Authority Members.  This was agreed at the last meeting of that Authority and he asked was Councillor Atkin able to say that he would not be accepting this increase in order to show solidarity with the fire fighters and the people of Rotherham who wanted to see this second appliance reinstated.


Councillor Atkin believed Councillor Elliott must have misunderstood the position as there had been no vote on the increase of allowances. 


He explained that allowances were reviewed every four years by an independent consultant.  This was due in the next few months.  However, previously a recommended larger increase had been suggested, but this had been refused and Fire Authority Members agreed to only take the same percentage increase as the fire fighters.


(5)  Councillor Napper asked would the Council now agree with Opposition Councillors that Rotherham’s second appliance should be reinstated after the fires in Dalton and Maltby in which a man lost his life.


Councillor Atkin, along with other Members, would all wish to pay respects to those affected by the recent fires in Dalton and Maltby, where sadly a gentleman in his fifties died.


The Fire Authority took most seriously its responsibility to manage risk right across South Yorkshire, especially at a time when budgets were squeezed. Thankfully deaths in fires were now much rarer than they once were. Both of the fires mentioned required several appliances to be deployed, in accordance with the Fire Service’s plans, and the Maltby fire was attended by appliances from Maltby fire station as well as Aston Park and Edlington.


Whilst everyone would all wish to see the second Rotherham appliance staffed overnight, as indicated last month, the Fire Authority as a whole had to weigh that against other risks and demands on the Service.


In a supplementary question Councillor Napper indicated that if the fire in Dalton occurred just before the fire in Maltby, Maltby would not have been covered and he asked where would the fire appliance come from in such a scenario.


Councillor Atkin explained there were approximately twenty-five fire stations in South Yorkshire. Fire appliances moved across the county whenever there was a fire and deployed accordingly, which was common practice across the country.


(6)  Councillor Cowles asked could be he informed of the number of homes in the Borough that have been visited by the Fire Community Safety Team and confirmed he would accept a simple percentage figure.


Councillor Atkin confirmed the Fire Service had carried out Home Safety Checks in more than 46,000 homes in Rotherham which was 34% of all domestic properties.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles pointed out that if only 34% of homes had been checked this left 66% that have not been inspected.  This meant agreement was being given to cut the Fire Service, but meant the Service had little idea about the state of housing and how fire proof it was. He asked would it not be easier to accept that the decision made was wrong, accept that there should be a review of the plan on regular basis and why not do what Crewe have done where the Labour and Conservative parties had joined together to support each other and to support the fire fighters in order to reinstate this second appliance.


Councillor Atkin confirmed 66% of properties had not been inspected, but this was done on a priority basis and those deemed most at risk. Most people would assess their own risk and buy smoke alarms.  It would appear that if a house did catch fire the Service had failed so you believed it made more sense to use resources to inspect properties than on fire fighters to prevent a fire in the first place.