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 Council Procedure Rule 11(5).
(1) Councillor R. Elliott stated that, according to the Fire Authority’s latest financial figures dated 14th January, 2019, the Service had recorded an underspend and committed to reserves this year the sum of £500k so he asked why had Rotherham2 not been reinstated?
Councillor Atkin explained the latest financial report presented to the Fire Authority showed the Service achieving a relatively small underspend on an annual budget of £50m. In presenting this report to Members the Director of Support Services outlined significant financial risks facing the service. These included:-
* The requirement to save £1.4 million from the service’s annual budget, following the outcome of a Judicial Review relating to the Close Proximity Crewing duty system
* The outcome of a Government pensions revaluation, which would almost certainly mean a sharp rise in employer pension contributions
* Legal costs and detriment claims for staff displaced because of CPC, which were not yet known and would have to be met from the current year’s underspend
* An uncertain financial future for all public services, with further cuts likely beyond 2020/21.
It was as a result of these factors that the Fire Authority agreed that the Service should begin the process of developing a revised Integrated Risk Management Plan, which would consider its future service provision (including fire cover) in line with the money available to it.
The IRMP process was underway with the draft proposal expected in late Spring. This would consider all other stations based on risk and available resources. Once approved by the Fire Authority a consultation process would commence with communities, partners and other relevant bodies.
In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott believed excuses were being made when the funding was available and the views of this Chamber were ignored. In respect of the Fire Authority’s view of a bleak future, there had been eight consecutive years of surplus and despite these figures being asked for they had not been provided. However, they were:-
2010/11 £4 million
2011/12 £3 million
2012/13 £3.5 million
2013/14 £0.5 million
2014/15 £3 million
2015/16 £2 million
2016/17 £0.75 million
2017/18 £0.5 million
The instruction of this Chamber and by definition the residents of Rotherham was to reinstate the second pump when funds allowed. There was no mention in that motion unless there were dire financial forecasts. Funding was clearly available and had been for the last eight years. Bearing this in mind would Councillor Atkin be asking at the next meeting for implementation of the wishes of this Chamber, stand up for the residents that he and others represented and ask that the second appliance was reinstated with no excuses.
Councillor Atkin confirmed again the Fire Authority were writing a new IRMP. He acknowledged the figures quoted, but pointed out that this year the underspend was £58,000. The Fire Authority were budgeting and planning for future years. Next year there would be no underspend and in subsequent years potentially deficits.
£500,000 would have paid for reinstatement of a second pump at night. He reminded Members, however, that the second pump had not been removed from Rotherham, but it was crewed differently at night. In order for this second pump to be staffed appropriately there would have to be recruitment and then potentially staff may be made redundant again.
(2) Councillor Cowles asked could the spokersperson please confirm that the long overdue new 101 system was now live, as of November, and given the wide public interest and desperately needed improvements why have we not been made aware of this fact.
Councillor Sansome confirmed that the Police and Crime Panel held on 3rd December, 2018 were informed by Chief Constable Watson that the Smart Contact telephone system had gone live. The new system was more reliable and would help to reduce pressure on the 101 system. The next step was to introduce a call-back system, providing the opportunity for those callers wanting non-emergency help to leave their details so that officers and staff could call them back. Until that was done there was nothing that the public would notice by the new system being introduced. However, this call-back facility was still being tested.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to two occasions during the past two years when Commander Watson and the Police and Crime Commissioner had been to this Chamber and stated that when the new system was available the delays and problems with old system would be alleviated.
Yet, just before Christmas, Commander Watson issued a statement saying that although the new system was now live the public should not expect to see any change in performance and he confirmed that they have not done.
Billions were spent on this project which was late and over budget yet taxpayers were expected to accept an increase in the precept termed by the Police and Crime Commissioner as a modest increase, well modest for who?
Recently politicians, including Mr. Corbyn, were quoted in the press condemning fare increases on railways for no improvement in service and Councillor Cowles agreed with him, yet here a Labour politician was doing exactly that.
Councillor Cowles asked, therefore, would Councillor Sansome request that the two gentlemen to come to this Chamber to explain why there was no benefit and what if anything could be expected for the money and why this was the case.
Councillor Sansome confirmed he and Councillor Cowles had, at the back end of last year, met with the Chief Constable and they both shared the same frustrations concerning bringing those people to the Chamber. He had no problem along with Councillor Short asking for the Chief Constable and the Commissioner to attend a seminar in this building.
He needed to make it clear, however, that as at the moment the precept had not been agreed by the Police and Crime Panel.
He shared the frustrations because he too wanted that system to be up and running. He pointed out that when he and Councillor Cowles had met the Commissioner they had challenged the actual penalty clauses which were in place concerning the delay and suggested before this was agreed it was more appropriate for a seminar to take place with Members so questions such as this could be asked.
(3) Councillor Carter stated that a few meetings ago he asked the Cabinet Member about the Pension Authority’s investment in companies that frack. Has Rotherham Council made any representations to change this?
Councillor Ellis confirmed the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority liaised and communicated with the four authorities, Doncaster, Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham, in a variety of ways along with the other 500 employees.
As a result of the interest in fracking, South Yorkshire Pensions Authority issued a formal statement which it put on its website which was readily available.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked, given the meeting where he raised the issue with Councillor Lelliott, he asked again what representations had been made by this Chamber or administration about fracking.
Councillor Ellis pointed out that there had been varied discussions at the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority along with emails/updates on the website.
However, in terms of formal representation the Council was very aware that during this calendar year 2019 South Yorkshire Pensions Authority would be reviewing its investment strategy and as such would have full consultation and at that stage formal representation would be made by this Borough.