Stagg at Bay – MPs Want Answers

08:07 Tuesday 12th April 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Now the MP for Peterborough says he doesn’t believe the amount of money being spent on salaries by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is sustainable. Stewart Jackson is joining two other Cambridgeshire MPs in calling for a review of how the county’s fire service spends its money. He’ll be meeting the Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg to discuss the matter later today, with a couple of other MPs. He explained earlier his concerns. (TAPE)
STEWART JACKSON: When we’re all being told that we’ve got to tighten our belts and reduce public expenditure across a lot of areas, to learn, for instance, that this fire service, which serves 750,000 people, has four members of staff on £600,000 between them, has six people in their media and communications department, including a full-time web co-ordinator, a design and communications officer, a full-time PR officer, and a media and communications assistant, that they are spending £128,000 on car allowances for the coming year, for instance, and that they’re spending for instance £300,000 this year on new laptops and desktop computers, these are figures which would cause eyebrows to be raised in a very good benign year, but given the circumstances we’re in financially, I just don’t think they’re sustainable. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson. I’m pleased to say we can speak to the county’s Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg now. Morning Graham.
GRAHAM STAGG: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: It feels like and seems like, from what Stewart was saying, that there’s an air of profligacy at the top of the fire service in Cambridgeshire.
GRAHAM STAGG: Well it may appear like that from what Mr. Jackson and some of his colleagues are saying, but let’s have a look at the facts. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service measured against the head of population is the cheapest fire and rescue service in the country. No-one in the country pays less for its fire and rescue service than the taxpayers of Cambridgeshire.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we could pay even less, couldn’t we? Are the top four people in your fire service including your good self worth half a million pounds in salaries?
GRAHAM STAGG: Well those salary levels that are quoted of course include all the on-costs of pension, natrional insurance etcetera. So they’re not quite as profligate as people would make out. But it’s a good question that you ask. and we’ve been independently reviewed by chief fire officers from around the country, and also by the Audit Commission, who both said that we perform exceptionally well. So we’ve got a very very good fire service, and everyone should take credit for that who works in Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service. We’ve got a great cost for running that fire and rescue service, and that’s a very very good outcome for the taxpayers of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you worth more than the Chief of Cambridgeshire Police, and the lady who runs Peterborough City?
GRAHAM STAGG: Well you know I don’t think I earn more than Gillian Beasley, who runs more than (sic) Peterborough. I’m not going to get into that. We’re employed by different people. We were recruited in different ways, and we come from different areas. So I think they’re quite abritrary benchmarks. I think the thing we need to be looking at is, are we rewarded for failure, or for success. Now I can understand why people focus on salaries, and get upset if they feel that chief executives, and their directors are being paid for running failing services. But we’re not. We’re being rewarded for success. And we’re performance managed well by the Fire Authority, who sets these packages to attract and retain quality people.
PAUL STAINTON: Can you understand though, the people of Peterborough might be slightly upset this morning, when they hear that the top four people in your fire service earn half a million pounds a year, and yet there are proposals on the table to merge fire stations in the city, ie, Stanground and Dogsthorpe?
GRAHAM STAGG: Well those proposals are not on the table at the moment.
PAUL STAINTON: They’ve been talked about, haven’t they?
GRAHAM STAGG: Let’s get this absolutely clear. I personally requested to see all the MPs in Cambridgeshire, in order to discuss with them where we were, what we were thinking about, and what we intend to do, through this whole period of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Now we’ve put a number of issues on the table, but I need to say that we have already made the savings from the back office that we need to make to get us through the first two years. So were going to do a lot of long hard thinking before we get to 2013, to make sure that we make the right decisions for the future of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service. But I think what is absolutely clear is the service that we transform into by 2013 is the service we’re going to get left with for some considerable period of time. Because I think the money that we’ve lost is not going to come back in the short term.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. What are your hopes for this meeting witrh Stewart Jackson and the two other MPs today? What do you hope will come out of it?
GRAHAM STAGG: Well no, all I wanted to do really was just to talk to them about what we’re thinking about, some of the options that we have, and what some of the risks are for the next two years. Because of course we only have certainty in our funding for two years, up until 2013. There is a review of how the Government is going to distribute what it currently distributes as grants. And we see that in the fire authority as a real risk to us. So some of it was about alerting our MPs in Cambridgeshire to a potential risk that could actually see us lose more money.
PAUL STAINTON: They’re calling for a review of spending in the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service. Do you expect that to happen?
GRAHAM STAGG: Well absolutely. Mr Barclay’s letter in the media is something that we can all subscribe to. You know, the top three officers in Cambridgeshire have over 80 years fire service experience between them. We know how important front line services are. We know how important fire engines and fire-fighters are. We don’t want to cut the service, and by the time we get to 2013, all these budgets that we’ve spoken about thsi morning will all have been completely reviewed, and will look very differently. My reassurance to the public is that we will look very very hard at all those non-front line services, in order to cut those before we cut front line services. But I must also add with regard to my internal communications team, they do an awful lot of really good work, and they are actually at the front line.
PAUL STAINTON: Mm. Do you need a web designer though?
GRAHAM STAGG: We get a lot of access, public access to our website on a daily basis. We have a lot of interaction on the social media, on Facebook and Twitter. That’s the way people are now coming to the service and learning things about the service. So do we need a website? Yes we do. Does it need to be a good website, and accessful (sic)? Yes it is. Can you maintain it without a full time member of staff? No you can’t. So absolutely, we do.
PAUL STAINTON: Many comments this morning about this. Can I read you one? Richard in Peterborough says, “50 years ago Peterborough’s Chief Fire Officer lived in a modest house next to Dogsthorpe Fire Station. Can the present commander tell us what mansion his exalted position enjoys.” You can understand, that’s the level of anger.
GRAHAM STAGG: I can understand that level of anger. But I could understand it if we were losing control of costs, and costing the people of Cambridgeshire a huge amount, an unnecessary amount, to run their fire service. But of course we’re not. As I stated before, we are the cheapest fire and rescue service in the country. The managers you’re talking about have good control of costs. We’re cutting costs. We have done for the last three years. And we will cut costs into the future, to protect front line services.
PAUL STAINTON: Graham, we’ll leave it there. Thank you for coming on this morning, and answering all our questions. Graham Stagg, Chief Fire Officer Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue.