GFRS leadership welcomes findings of most recent audit reports
The findings of the final three compliance audit reports have been welcomed by the new chief fire officer and cabinet member as another important step in demonstrating Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue service is addressing the problems of the past.
Whilst the reports make for uncomfortable reading, CFO Wayne Bowcock and Cabinet Member Dave Norman recognise the importance of the work carried out by Audit Risk Assurance in ensuring the service has robust policies and process in place, to make sure the service is using public funds in the most appropriate way at all times.
The reports highlight that in the past there was a serious lack of leadership within the service, resulting in a lack of compliance and internal controls when it came to claiming expenses and benefits and fleet management arrangements. This led to overly generous practices which didn’t represent appropriate use of public funds.
The reports, and those published previously, highlight a number of areas where historic policies and practises were simply not good enough. Led by CFO Bowcock, all necessary steps are being taken to address all issues transparently, thoroughly and robustly.
Cllr Dave Norman, Cabinet Member with responsibility for GFRS said: “I am working with the new Chief Fire Officer, and councillors from all parties, to ensure the issues of the past are addressed and the people of Gloucestershire can have absolute confidence in GFRS senior leadership. We have been completely transparent about the steps we have taken to do that – including these latest reports. They make for uncomfortable reading showing that, in the past, some senior firefighters didn’t follow best practice.
“I was a firefighter for many years – which is why I was determined to see these issues resolved. The trust the public has in every firefighter is vital for the work that we do – that’s why the Chief Fire Officer and I were determined to get it right. GFRS has now been bought much closer to the financial and regulatory framework of the rest of the council, with strong and effective controls put in place. ”
GFRS has already made significant steps in strengthening its culture and the policies and process that support the delivery of a service, much valued by communities across the county, including:
- The development, with the support of tax specialists, of robust and compliant expenses and benefits policies, including the use of GFRS vehicles.
- The disposal, via auction, of three inappropriate senior officer vehicles (£70k incl. vat)
- Training for staff on financial management, in line with county council processes.
- Training for staff in legal and procurement processes to ensure strong internal controls are in place, understood and complied with
- The introduction of an effective gifts and hospitality process, in line with county council policy
- Closer integration with other county council departments
- Establishment of a cross party Cabinet Panel
- Establishment of a senior officer panel to ensure areas changes and improvements highlighted in all audit reports and the HMICFRS are implemented as quickly as possible
- Implementation of an appropriate recharging policy for attendance at large public events, mainly the Cheltenham Gold Cup week. Between 2015 and 2018, the amount charged differed from year to year but was never sufficient to cover the cost of the crews attending. This was addressed in 2019. Audit Risk Assurance has been asked to look into this issue
The report will be discussed by the Audit and Governance Committee at its meeting on 11 October 2019.