Norfolk’s fire chief Roy Harold retires with “immediate effect”

Chief fire officer Roy Harold has retired. Pic: Sonya Duncan

Chief fire officer Roy Harold has retired. Pic: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

Norfolk's chief fire officer Roy Harold has retired with 'immediate effect' against a backdrop of budget cuts.

His surprise retirement came to light in an internal memo sent to fire service staff by Tom McCabe, executive director of community and environmental services at Norfolk County Council, which has been seen by this newspaper.

No official reason has been given for Mr Harold's sudden departure.

Mr Harold, 52, said on Tuesday he did not wish to comment on his retirement, but was looking forward to spending more time with his family.

It comes against a backdrop of back office cuts to the fire service which were agreed earlier this year - and the prospect of further reductions as the council prepares its budget for next year.

Mr Harold had recently raised his fears about funding for the service's flood rescue team.

The Underwater Search and Rescue (USAR) team is funded by a grant from DEFRA, but that cash runs out in March 2017.

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It would leave a hole in next year's budget of £150,000, Norfolk County Council's communities committee was told in October.

The flood and water rescue team, which includes four rescue boat teams, is expected to cost £80,000 a year and the dive team was forecast to cost the council £108,000.

The dive team earned £3,500 a day from being hired out to police forces across the country and was forecast to make £41,000 a year.

That left a hole of £150,000 for the fire service's flood team without the DEFRA grant.

Mr Harold was at the communities committee meeting in October, where one councillor said: 'Roy was quite clear we couldn't afford it (the flood team) with our own budget.

'He had not been happy with the proposed level of budget for the last three years.'

The EDP launched a campaign last year to protect our fire service from the worst of the cuts and keep fire stations open.

But the service is currently making savings of around £2m from 2014 to 2017, having previously cut almost £4m from 2011 to 2014.

Its annual budget is £29m and it is one of the lowest spending fire authorities in the county per head of population.

Mr Harold met South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who was then Environment Secretary, in July at Swaffham fire station to raise his concerns about the end of DEFRA's grant funding for Norfolk fire service's flood rescue team.

According to minutes from the communities committee, she told Mr Harold no more grant funding was available.

'We should not expect further government funding to preserve Norfolk's current flood rescue teams,' the minutes said.

No decision has been made yet about Norfolk County Council funding the team when DEFRA's grant cash runs out.

The team responds to floods and emergencies nationwide. But it costs to keep going. A thermal imaging camera bought for the USAR team in September cost £8,692.

Mr Harold's departure was confirmed to firefighters and some councillors in an email from council director Mr McCabe last night.

He took over from Nigel Williams as Norfolk's chief fire officer in September last year.

The email from Mr McCabe said: 'I am writing to inform you that CFO Roy Harold will be retiring from the service with immediate effect.

'In the meantime, interim arrangements have been put in place to ensure continuity of service and I can announce that David Ashworth has been appointed as acting chief fire officer.

'The Public Safety Board will continue to meet; however, line management arrangements for trading standards and resilience will temporarily transfer to assistant director David Collinson.

'David Ashworth will be working closely with me to provide clarity on the priori-ties for the service over the next few months and will be working with the Board to ensure these are effectively delivered.

'Further communications will follow in due course and I know that David will want to talk to as many of you as possible both to engage with you over the service priori-ties and to hear your views and any concerns that you may have.

'I am sure that you will all give David your support over the next few months.'

Mr McCabe added in the email: 'Finally I want to say that it is thanks to each and every one of you that the service has continued to deliver a safe and effective service and I know that you are all committed to making sure this continues.'

Norfolk County Council said firefighters of Mr Harold's 'age and experience' were entitled to retire at 50.

'Roy has been a committed advocate for the Fire and Rescue Service and has worked hard to further the integration of the service with other emergency services. We wish him a long and happy retirement,' said Mr McCabe

Mr McCabe described the new chief fire officer Mr Ashworth, who has been with Norfolk Fire Service for more than 30 years, as a 'Norfolk man through and through with a wealth of fire-fighting experience'.

'He has all the qualities necessary to make a success of his new role,' he added.

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