Following the publication of the Public Accounts Committee’s report, which highlights several of the challenges facing the Fire and Rescue Service, CFOA President Paul Hancock has responded to it.
The report highlights that Fire and Rescue Services have performed well despite budget cuts between 2010 and 2016, and senior fire officers have worked hard to ensure that the public continues to enjoy a highly professional and effective emergency service.
However, as President Paul Hancock made clear in his evidence to the committee, the impact of further budget cuts is likely to be different across the country. Concerns are emerging about the effect on local resilience and – by extension – national resilience.
Fire and rescue services will need to collaborate further in the future; both with one another and with other partners. The Home Office has made clear its desire to see greater collaboration with other blue light services, especially police.
CFOA will support any services which wish to take forward greater collaboration or mergers where a robust local business case has been made.
In addition, CFOA believes that the case has been made for the preventative approach, and that fire and rescue services can contribute hugely to a range of social outcomes. Nonetheless, we agree that it is important to build an evidence base to ensure such an approach provides value for money.
CFOA is already working with colleagues in Public Health England to properly assess the impact of our health and well-being interventions in three areas of the country, and some individual fire services have done similar analyses which show significant returns on investment.
We would be supportive of any further evaluation to confirm this positive impact. It is important to note that the approach to fire prevention adopted by fire and rescue services over the past two decades – which has been hugely successful in reducing deaths and injuries – required a degree of trust and a willingness to support something that flew in the face of conventional practice at the time.
The joint CFOA/LGA Peer Review and Operational Self-Assessment process is a sector-led improvement tool, designed to provide authorities and senior officers with external insight to help them improve in future.
CFOA believes it has been successful in this regard. It has recently been refreshed following rigorous academic assessment by Cardiff University, and it should continue to play an important role.
The peer review process was not designed as a replacement or alternative to an inspectorate, or to provide direct assurance to central government. Nonetheless, CFOA recognises the concerns expressed regarding the independence of the assurance process. Accordingly, CFOA welcomes an opportunity to work with the Home Office to deliver whatever assurance mechanism it may wish to put in place for the future.
We strongly support any moves to improve the quality of data and performance information. To that end, CFOA is already working with colleagues from the LGA to create a suite of strategic benchmark indicators, enabling self, peer and community based challenge on the performance of the Fire and Rescue Service. Clearly, any performance indicators and data must be accessible and easily understood, and ensure that services can be compared fairly.