CFOA responds to government’s Fire Reform announcement

The Home Secretary’s Fire Reform announcement on May 24th has been welcomed by the Chief Fire Officers Association – and CFOA is now looking forward to working closely with government on the proposals set out.

The Rt Honourable Theresa May outlined the government’s Reform programme, which aims to transform the Fire and Rescue service, building on its previous success with prevention and improving the safety and well being of the public.

Today’s announcement was the first speech on Fire Reform since the Home Office took responsibility for the service.

You can see the full transcript of the speech on the Reform website.

Key themes emerging included: Radical reforms will be introduced; Fire Service has modernised more than any other public service; reference made to poor governance; services not being diverse enough and future efficiency needed.

In addition, the Home Secretary said she was not looking to merge fire and police, but deeper collaboration was needed, as said collaboration is currently ‘patchy’.

There was also criticism of governance, with the Home Secretary stating: “Governance in fire and rescue bears all the hallmarks of the flawed police authorities I abolished in 2012. Bureaucratic committees of appointed councillors without the direct democratic mandate to drive real change or the public profile to engage local people.

“So we will bring the same direct democratic mandate to oversight of fire and rescue services – by giving police and crime commissioners the ability to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made. This provision, which is already in the Policing and Crime Bill currently making its way through Parliament, will bring greater accountability to the work of local fire and rescue services where it is taken up and provide stronger leadership in keeping the public safe. I encourage PCCs to carefully consider the potential benefits and I hope fire and rescue authorities will work constructively with PCCs to realise them.

“Let me be clear, these proposals are not a police takeover of fire and rescue services, or a top-down merger of the roles of police officers and firefighters. The important distinction between operational policing and firefighting will be maintained – fire officers will not be given the power of arrest and the law will continue to prevent full-time police officers from training as firefighters. Funding streams for police and fire will not be merged and PCCs will raise a separate fire precept, so local people can hold them to account for how their money is spent.

“But there’s one problem – it is currently almost impossible to scrutinise your local fire and rescue service. There’s no independent inspectorate; no regular audit of performance; and only limited available data on performance over time or between areas. Instead, local fire and rescue services are examined by a system of peer challenge – which provides no assurance whatsoever to the public. It may serve a purpose as a tool for self-improvement, but in practice it means that chief fire officers handpick their own reviewer, set their own terms of reference, and decide whether or not to publish the results. It is not so much marking your own homework as setting your own exam paper and resolving that you’ve passed – and it has to change.”

Theresa May also said reform must extend to chief fire officers. “There is widening disparity between the pay of chief fire officers in different parts of the country, with little relationship to their skills, performance or the size of the role. And it can never be justified for chief and principal fire officers to retire one day only to be rehired in the same job just a few days later with financial benefits that rank and file firefighters could never expect. It looks wrong; it erodes public confidence; it undermines the respect of firefighters and staff in their leadership. It must stop.”

Other subjects announced included: Culture – with reference to bullying and harassment; diversity in the workforce; flexibility needed in how firefighters are used; developing the prevention agenda; partnership working to increase protection to communities; efficiencies; unifying research, and closer working between the emergency services.

It was also announced that the Thomas Review would be published, but no date given.

It was also made clear that Fire and Rescue Services across England will be expected to improve accountability and transparency, supported by an independent inspection. The Home Secretary challenged authorities to tackle concerns around culture and diversity; co-ordinate activities such as procurement nationally and give the public details to allow them to assess their local service.

Commenting from the meeting, CFOA President, Paul Hancock, said: “I am pleased that the Fire Reform programme has now been announced and that the Home Secretary has recognised the way fire services have transformed and the effectiveness of the Service’s preventative work.”

“CFOA will be working with the Home Office to ensure we are leading the transformation and representing the views of Fire and Rescue services from the whole of the UK including the devolved administrations. Since the move of the Fire Service to the Home Officer earlier this year, CFOA has developed good working relationships with the Home Office and the new Fire Minister.

“I am looking forward to helping the Home Office develop the detail using our important links to government, local government, the NHS, ambulance services and other organisations, to enable services to make an important wider contribution to society.

“We are also making changes to CFOA to ensure we can further develop relationships with the Home Office on how to implement change across the Fire and Rescue Service, benefiting the fire and rescue service and the public we serve.”

“We want to ensure continuing government support for existing collaborations and future opportunities for cooperation with a wide range of partners including – but not limited to – police services.

CFOA will:   

  • Provide professional advice and guidance to government on the future  fire strategy  and fire and rescue service reform
  • Seek assurance that fire and rescue service funding will be sustainable, consider in-depth UK national risks as a whole, and remain distinct from police and other Home Office budgets
  • Work with individuals to ensure that the appropriate governance is determined locally
  • Continue to promote closer collaboration between fire and rescue services and partners in other emergency services, health, local government and the third sector where appropriate and for the benefit of the communities we serve.
  • Adapt as an Association to best support the UK FRS
  • Promote and co-ordinate activities nationally where this provides more  effective or efficient support  for local services
  • Fire and Rescue services moved to the Home Office in January 2016
  • CFOA believes the Home Office could lead to improvements in coordinating national resilience
  • It is essential fire and rescue services do not lose their distinctive reputation or important links to local government and partner organisations
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