Consider the report of the Head of Corporate Support Department
a) Submitted – a report by the Head of Corporate Support Department to scrutinise the Council’s arrangements to challenge the effectiveness and accountability of the Fire Authority. It was noted that the Fire Authority had the right to set a precept on the councils of north Wales in order to pay for the service. This precept counted against the Council’s expenditure. It was explained that this was different to the precept of the Police Authority which was allowed to raise a separate precept. As an example, the Fire Authority’s precept on Gwynedd Council in 2015/16 was highlighted as £5,603,000. Therefore, every increase of 1% would mean a further £56,030 that the Council would have to find in cuts or tax increases.
b) In terms of challenging the effectiveness of the Fire Service, like every other service within the Council, there was a need to consider whether there were opportunities to be more efficient. However, for the Fire Service, we did not have the opportunity as a Council and therefore we had to entrust our representatives on the Authority to ensure that this happened. Consequently, the Council’s representatives on the Authority had been invited to this Committee in order to make an initial assessment of what information they had about whether the service was efficient and what evidence they had to support this. The Council’s representatives were questioned on:
- The Authority’s plans to seek a further increase in the precept in the coming years and the implications of that for the Council’s own services;
- The Fire Authority’s own arrangements for challenging the efficiency of the Service and the evidence that it is as efficient as it can be;
- The Authority’s willingness to look at other similar areas spending less to assess whether there are lessons to be learnt from them;
- The extent to which further efficiency ideas are being considered;
- The role of individual members from the Council in scrutinising and ensuring accountability for the Authority’s arrangements and the extent to which they are able to fulfil those roles.
In response, the representatives highlighted that a number of options were
being proposed in terms of improving the efficiency of the Fire Service and
that Gwynedd representatives were not supportive of accepting a further
increase on the precept. It was noted that a Scrutiny Sub-committee had been
established within the Fire Service to ensure fairness when discussing options.
It was highlighted that the discussion of the Sub-committee would be referred
to the Operational Panel and then to the Principal Committee. In terms of support
for the role of members, it was noted that the representatives were contacting
the Finance Department to obtain information regarding financial matters. It
was added that the Fire Service was now responding to requests for information.
The representatives would like to see the Fire Service’s finance duties
shared (Conwy currently administrated them). The main aim of the
representatives was to protect Gwynedd and rural services in particular.
ch) In addition, the
Senior Manager – Democracy and Delivery highlighted that the Council’s Chief
Executive had received a letter noting the presence of the representatives at
the Authority’s meetings. Concern was expressed regarding the presence of one
i) To express the Committee’s satisfaction with how Council representatives have challenged issues on the Fire Authority thus far and encourage them to continue to do so;
ii) To recommend that the Fire Authority makes a request to the Government to allow a different system of increasing the Fire Authority’s precept which would not have such an impact on individual councils’ decisions on tax and expenditure on their own services.
iii) To recommend that the Plaid Cymru Leader ensures the presence of one Plaid Cymru representative on the Fire Authority is improved.