After a fantastic first day which saw our new President, Paul Hancock, take up the Presidential chain from Peter Dartford, day two of the CFOA AGM and Autumn Conference was a chance to hear from a number of national and international speakers on issues of leadership, devolution and collaboration.
First up was Chris Addiers, President of the FEU (Federation of the European Union Fire Officer Associations) and Chief Fire Officer of the Antwerp Fire Brigade, who delivered a fascinating presentation on the recent reform of Belgian Fire and Rescue Services. Belgium has transitioned from dozens of small, municipal services to a much smaller number of regional brigades, and unlike the English FRS, is likely to see the federal (or central government) portion of its budget increase over the coming years, as less is funded from local taxation. Fire services already provide 75% of EMS cover in Belgium and steps are being taken to improve collaboration with police; half of their control centres are already tri-service.
Chris also gave an update on the work of the FEU, which remains keen to improve relationships with partner organisations and policy makers and improve project management in the coming years. It will increasingly move its focus to the emerging trend for collaboration and integration with other partners, and area in which Chris thinks the UK is already leading the way.
Our next speaker was Ida Texell (pictured) from the Attunda Fire and Rescue Service in Sweden. Ida is one of Sweden’s first female fire chiefs and trained as a fire engineer before joining the fire and rescue service in the 1990’s. She gave powerful and energetic presentation, which included an overview of the Swedish fire and rescue service and her own journey to the position of Chief, before discussing leadership and the need to consider drivers for change. Ida challenged members to think and act differently and in a radical way, and to “replace fear of the unknown with curiosity”.
We were then very pleased to be joined by Chief Larry Few, Immediate Past President of of the IAFC Metro Chiefs and Chief Fire Officer of Fulton County, GA. Larry discussed some of the differences between US and UK fire and rescue services and their organisation, and the much more local approach taken by American services. He also discussed his own positive relationships with local government and his local police force, and encouraged CFOA members to break down the barriers that are blocking collaborative efforts.
For our afternoon session we were joined by Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, David Parr, Chief Exec of Halton Borough Council (pictured) and Cllr David Acton of Greater Manchester Fire Authority to consider the UK context of devolution and localisation, and how it might effect fire.
Ed Cox outlined all the work that IPPR North had done on devolution and their report “Decentralisation Decade“, which sets out how they think true devolution and economic growth can be delivered. He focused on some of the key drivers of local prosperity, including skills, innovation and institutions, as well as infrastructure – which he believes is sometimes the focus at the expense of the others. Ed also looked at some of the pitfalls, and some of the complexity and risks that devolution would bring, particularly to those areas that aren’t coterminous or lack the political will.
David Parr gave an overview of Halton’s efforts to be involved with devolution in the Liverpool City region, and the challenges posed by their position in Cheshire, with a separate police and fire service. He discussed the many complexities posed by the mixed political and geographical picture for the Liverpool city region, and compared many of the difficulties they were likely to face to the relative ease with which the Manchester region were progressing their devolution proposals.
Our final speaker, Cllr David Acton, gave a fire and rescue service view of the “Devo Manc” changes, which will see the elected Mayor take control of fire and rescue alongside a wide range of other services. Manchester has already been working across ten different authorities for many years, which has made them a prime candidate for bold devolution plans. He also outlined his own opposition to the idea of merging fire and rescue services with Police and Crime Commissioners, which is being proposed in a recent Home Office consultation.