The Chief Executive reported that she had received the following question from Councillor Kitching in accordance with Standing Order No. 12.
‘Does Councillor Lamb have an update yet on the total amount of the legal costs incurred by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue as a result of implementing the unlawful system of Close Proximity Crewing?’
Councillor Lamb, Section 41 representative stated that he was unable to give a full answer as a full update was not yet available. He was not prepared to offer this chamber or indeed the residents of Barnsley an incomplete picture. When he had all the information to present he would do, as he had previously promised on a number of occasions. The reason for that was that the outcome of discussions was awaited with the Solicitors acting on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) relating to the costs of the Judicial Review and information relating to detriment payments arising from this. As soon as this information was received he would make this available to this chamber.
There were a couple of issues he would like to pick out of this question. There was reference to the unlawful system of Close Proximity Crewing. The Judge ruled, however, that it was only unlawful in the absence of a collective agreement. He had had a meeting with the FBU local officials and tried to secure a local agreement but unfortunately they refused. This was despite the fact that their members who worked on that system volunteered to do so and also did not want to see an end to it. He felt that it was important to remember why this system had to be adopted in the first place as it saved £1.4m a year. The cumulative figure saved so far was £6m per year across South Yorkshire. This amount had to be saved as a result of the austerity following decisions of the previous government. Close Proximity Crewing protected the immediate response that South Yorkshire Fires and Rescue Service could make in emergency situations and such actions saved lives. He did not feel he had to apologise for or justify those actions that had been taken in order to save lives of the people of Barnsley and South Yorkshire. He did, however, caution any Member in the chamber against grandstanding or trying to score political points on a matter as serious as this.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: ‘Could Councillor Lamb explain the likely impact on public services of these legal costs incurred as a result of the Authority implementing what ultimately proved to be an unlawful system of crewing?’
Councillor Lamb stated that it was difficult to prove a negative because what had been done was that the Authority had saved £6m. There hadn’t been a cost, but a saving of £6m. What the Authority now had to do, because it had been deemed to be unlawful because of the absence of a collective agreement (the only circumstance in which it had been deemed to be unlawful) was to look at different ways of providing that service, of providing an immediate response to emergency situations. A new Integrated Risk Management Plan was to be submitted to the Fire Authority on Monday and there would be a consultation process across South Yorkshire with all of the Local Authorities, MP’s, communities and all of the stakeholders in order to try and find a way round this whole issue. He reiterated, however, that he was not prepared to apologise in any way for actions that had taken place to save the lives of people in South Yorkshire.