Chief fire officer says some staff could be leaving the profession over the ‘cost of living crisis’

Firefighters working on dampening down the scene of a fire (Photo: NFRS)
By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter

A chief fire officer has raised alarm bells over the number of staff leaving the fire service in Nottinghamshire – and said public sector pay becoming ‘increasingly uncompetitive’ is one of the reasons.

Craig Parkin, Chief Fire Officer at Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, presented his findings in a report to the human resources committee ahead of a meeting on Friday, July 1.

He says overall numbers have ‘slightly reduced’ from 861 (850.78 full time equivalent) to 842 (828.9 full time equivalent) employees in post during 2021-22.

There were 65 appointments to substantive or fixed-term roles and 108 leavers during the period, accounting for a turnover of 12.7 per cent.

He said: “The number of leavers during 2021-22 was more than predicted and reflects a general increase in turnover across the national workforce in the post-Covid period.

“Whilst this trend was predicted in the last workforce plan, the numbers of support staff who have left the service (24.5 per cent) was double the predicted number.

“Whilst increased movement in the labour market is a national trend, the increase may also relate to the move to the Joint Headquarters (Sherwood Lodge with the police service) and to increases in the cost of living, which have seen public sector pay rates become increasingly uncompetitive.

“This increase in turnover has been identified on the corporate risk register and will be kept under review during 2022-23.”

He said the outcome from the firefighter recruitment campaign in 2020 saw 27 new apprentice firefighters in employment during 2021.

Preparations for recruitment during 2022 are under way and will commence during the summer for a course start date in April 2023.

This will ensure that numbers are “maintained as operational employees retire or leave the service for other reasons”.

Two recruitment campaigns for on-call firefighters were undertaken, with the appointment of 13 firefighter trainees, who have now completed their initial training period. A further 10 trainees commenced training in April 2022 and 11 will commence in July 2022.

Forty-three support employees left the service during 2021-22, which accounts for 24.5 per cent of the support workforce.

Mr Parkin said: “This is a significant and unprecedented level of turnover and is recognised as a risk to the authority in terms of resources and loss of skills and knowledge.

“A review into recruitment and retention will be undertaken during 2022 with the aim of addressing any potential issues, establishing the service as an employer of choice, and reducing turnover of existing staff.”

In terms of equality, the service says it is committed to increasing the number of operational female employees in wholetime roles this year.

The number of women in operational roles increased during 2021-22 by three (48 overall) or 7.2 per cent of the operational workforce.

The fire service said the number of employees from minority ethnic backgrounds has also slightly increased.

There are currently 30 operational employees from non-white backgrounds, which represents 4.5 per cent of the operational workforce.

Mr Parkin added: “Workforce projections suggest that the service may lose up to 54 operational personnel by April 2024, offset by new starters during 2022-23.”

The fire service is also under financial pressure. It says while the service has set a balanced budget for 2021/22 this has required £2m of temporary savings to be made and still requires £153,000 to be funded from reserves.

The service said: “The financial position remains at best uncertain beyond 2021/22 as the prevailing economic climate will increase financial pressures to be placed upon all public-sector bodies and the fire service is no exception.

“In particular, inflation and pay award pressures are expected to create a deficit in the region of £2m in future years.

“The service is drawing up an Efficiency Strategy to identify where the required savings can be made in 2023/24 and beyond. With employee costs representing in the region of 80 per cent of our current budget it is unlikely that savings can be made without it impacting on staffing levels.”

The findings will be discussed at a meeting in Sherwood Lodge on Friday, July 1.

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