Agenda and minutes

Venue: County Hall, East Sussex County Council, St Anne's Crescent, Lewes BN7 1UE

Contact: Ellie Simpkin, Democratic Services Officer  01323 462085 Email:

No. Item


Declarations of Interest

In relation to matters on the agenda, seek declarations of interest from Members, in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Authority’s Code of Conduct for Members.


It was noted that, in relation to matters on the agenda, no participating Member had any interest to declare under the Fire Authority’s Code of Conduct for Members.


Apologies for Absence/Substitutions


Apologies were received from Councillor Pragnell.  Councillor Barnes was attending as his substitute.


Notification of items which the Chairman considers urgent and proposes to take at the end of the agenda/Chairman's business items

Any Members wishing to raise urgent items are asked, wherever possible, to notify the Chairman before the start of the meeting.  In so doing, they must state the special circumstances which they consider justify the matter being considered urgently.


There were none. 


Minutes of the last Policy & Resources Panel meeting held on 31 October 2019 pdf icon PDF 378 KB


RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meeting of the Policy & Resources Panel held on 31 October 2019 be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.



The Chairman will call the item numbers of the remaining items on the open agenda.  Each item which is called by any Member shall be reserved for debate.  The Chairman will then ask the Panel to adopt without debate the recommendations and resolutions contained in the relevant reports for those items which have not been called.


Members reserved the following items for debate:


23.       Revenue Budget & Capital Programme Monitoring 2019/20


24.       Fire Authority Service Planning Processes for 2020/21 & Beyond – Revenue Budget 2012/21 & Capital Strategy 2020/21 - 2024/25


Revenue Budget & Capital Programme Monitoring 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 310 KB

Report of the Assistant Director Resources / Treasurer

Additional documents:


The Panel received a report from the Assistant Director Resources/Treasurer (ADR/T) which outlined the issues arising from the monitoring of the 2019/20 Revenue Budget and Capital Programme as at 30 November 2019.  It was noted that the Revenue Budget was currently forecast to be £173,000 underspent.  With regards to the Capital Programme, the ADR/T highlighted that it was the most ambitious in Fire Authority history.  There had been a significant amount of slippage in both estates and fleet and as result the in-year spend was now forecast to be £4,232,000 underspent.  The current risks to both budgets were detailed in the report.


The ADR/T offered reassurance over the slippage to the Capital Programme, explaining that there had been a need to engage additional programme support which had caused delays, however, this was now in place.  Engagement with stakeholders regarding station works had taken longer than planned and changes in partner requirements, especially regarding plans for Uckfield and Heathfield Fire Stations, had also impacted.  The Estate Strategy delivery plan had been re-profiled from 6 to 8 years in a more pragmatic approach.  With regard to the fleet, replacements had been made on a like for like basis, however, the Fleet Strategy was being reviewed and time was being taken to ensure that the specification of frontline appliances and specialist equipment was appropriate for both current and future demand.  The Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) added that the recently completed Operational Response Review needed to inform the fleet strategy.  Consideration of contaminants was also fundamental to both fleet and estates design.  He was confident that pausing was the right thing to do.


The Panel asked further questions on the differentiation between planned and unplanned slippage.  Members welcomed the reassurance given by the ADR/T, however, they stressed the importance of differentiating between being over ambitious, programme management issues and conscious policy changes.  Members asked whether there need to be an improvement in the project management so potential issues were identified at an earlier stage.  The Chairman requested a further briefing note on the Capital Programme slippage and suggested that the matter be brought to the attention of the Scrutiny & Audit Panel.


The ADR/T acknowledged that the programme was ambitious, however this was the first comprehensive Estates Strategy for the Fire Authority and investment in key assets was vital.  Employing additional resources had taken longer than anticipated.  Staff engagement had been a challenge but had been the right course of action and had started a dialogue with staff which exceeded expectations.  The issues with partner projects could not have been foreseen and revised plans for Heathfield and Uckfield Fire Stations were expected to be presented to SLT over the forthcoming months.  The Estates team had grown and a shared service with Sussex Police developed with access to specialist external resources as and when required.  The Estates Strategy Board which was chaired by the ACFO and on which Councillor Peltzer Dunn sat was maintaining an oversight.  Officers were confident that the mechanism was now in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 23.


Fire Authority Service Planning Processes for 2020/21 & Beyond - Revenue Budget 2020/21 & Capital Strategy 2020/21 - 2024/25 pdf icon PDF 962 KB

Report of the Assistant Director Resources / Treasurer


The Panel received a report from the ADR/T which presented the Fire Authority’s draft Revenue Budget 2020/21, Capital Strategy 2020/21 – 2024/25 and Medium Term Finance Plan for 2020/21 – 2024/25 for initial consideration prior to its formal consideration by the Fire Authority at its meeting on 13 February 2020.


The ADR/T introduced the report highlighting that the Local Government Finance Settlement was only provisional at this stage and may be subject to change.  The final council tax and business rate bases and the Collection Fund positions were also still awaited and although the Home Office had confirmed that its 2020/21 budget included a continuation of the funding for the one off fire pensions grants, this was yet to receive formal approval. 


The report presented a balanced budget for 2020/21 based on a proposed council tax increase of 1.99%.  The ADR/T added that the sector had lobbied the Government to allow a principle of 2% or £5 whichever is the greater, however, this had not been successful and the 2% threshold would apply.  The Budget reflected pressures and savings in the region of £400k which had been identified through the Star Chamber process.  The Business Rates Retention Pilot was due to end in 2020/21, however, the Authority had been part of a successful bid to re-establish the East Sussex Business Rates Pool.  A reduction in the minimum reserves, down to 5% in line with national fire framework, was recommended. 


The Panel noted the significant financial uncertainty after 2020/21 with the Comprehensive Spending Review expected to resume in spring 2020, the fairer funding review and the future of the business rates system to be determined.  The report presented a range of scenarios post 2020/21.  Members commented on the unsatisfactory position that the Fire Authority was facing with uncertainty over long term funding and expressed caution over becoming dependent on council tax and business rates which carried risk.  The ADR/T commented that lobbying was continuing through the National Fire Chiefs Council and at a political level through the Local Government Association Fire Services Management Committee.


The Panel asked for further clarification over the 1.99% proposed council tax increase, given the reference to made to a 1.4% change in table 3 on page 46 of the report.  The ADR/T explained that the 1.4% represented the proposed increase in the net revenue expenditure which was funded by core grant, business rates and council tax.  A 1.99% increase in council tax was required for a balanced budget as presented in the report, taking into consideration the interaction between the three main funding streams.  The improvement and efficiency reserve was currently fully committed and the presented budget allowed for it to be replenished.  If the Members wished to propose a lower council tax increase, options to reduce the proposed budget would need to be explored, including the proposed contribution to the Improvement and Efficiency reserve.  The Panel supported the 1.99% proposed council tax increase and stressed importance of ensuring that budget proposals were clearly communicated to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 24.