Councillor in Milton Keynes wants to hold fire authority’s “feet to the fire” over budget strife

A council scrutiny committee has agreed to put fire chiefs’ “feet to the fire” over the service’s budget.

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 5:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 6:00 pm

The community and housing scrutiny committee of Milton Keynes Council was discussing items it wants to get its teeth into as the last item on Tuesday’s long meeting.

“We’ve had a devastating report from the inspector that the fire service is inadequate,” said Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) at Tuesday’s meeting. The fire authority later said it had not been judged “inadequate” in a report published late last year.

Cllr Petchey added: “We have revelations from the last meeting of the fire authority that they haven’t got enough firefighters, and they haven’t got enough fire appliances.

The Bucks fire authority HQ in Aylesbury

“If we are going to scrutinise the fire service we should do it as soon as possible.”

But committee chairman Cllr Jenni Ferrans (Lib Dem, Monkston) said: “I appreciate the concern but I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it in March.

“If we had the chance to do it in November, then we could have influenced the budget process perhaps but by that time their budget will be set and they won’t have performance figures to assess against.”

Cllr Petchey persisted: “What we want to do is hold their feet to the fire over the fact that they are not doing their job.”

Cllr Ferrans replied: “If the fire service haven’t got enough officers, because they haven’t got enough money, because a certain party has pushed their budgets down and down and down, for years, I’m not sure that holding their feet to the fire is going to make much difference.”

But Cllr Petchey persisted: “I’d rather hope that we would thought not just invite the chief fire officer but maybe the chair of the fire authority as well.” To which Cllr Ferrans replied: “We can invite…

“We could have a short item on that, we have got the space in the March programme.”

And Cllr Andy Reilly (Lib Dem, Shenley Brook End) added: “If there’s space on the agenda I don’t see why we shouldn’t.”

After the meeting, Mick Osborne, the Bucks and MK fire service chief operating officer and deputy chief fire officer said the service had not been judged “inadequate.”

Mr Osborne said: “Inadequate is a clear HMICFRS [inspection] judgement criteria, which is applied following an inspection process.

“Whilst our inspection report identified a range of areas for improvement, at no point during the inspection process was this service judged inadequate in any area or category.

“Response times are kept under regular review and there are a range of factors impacting response times which are shared by fire and rescue services nationally.

“Our average attendance times have in fact improved slightly over recent years, which indeed does buck the national trend.

“We are currently in the middle of a recruitment process for additional firefighters.”