Chair's Blog

08-11-19

Announcements and change

In my last blog I looked forward to some defining announcements in the autumn and winter of 2019 including the Spending Review, Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report and the State of Fire from Sir Tom Winsor.  Well, we have had two of the three announcements and the phase one report has certainly been as significant as predicted.  Let us start with the spending review announcement. 

We did not end up with a comprehensive three-year spending review, but with the announcement of a general election a CSR will be with us soon.  In terms of the one-year ‘rollover’ spending review we did have, it was the first time for a long while that the announcement did not mean immediate cuts to fire and rescue services, which was welcome but certainly not the end of the story.  Two matters still need to be resolved, firstly the employers’ pension contributions.  The 10% increase required last year was supported by government but to-date we are still unsure of the further 90% increase that will be expected in 2020/21.  Our understanding is that funding for that 90% has gone into Home Office budgets but, as yet, we are still not certain to see that come to fire authorities, which could have a significant impact on budgets.  Similarly, the precept consultation requires a response; NFCC is pushing for 3% or £5 to help fire and rescue services invest in the change we can see coming.  On the subject of the general election, I would not be surprised if that meant Sir Tom’s State of Fire report is delayed until the new year, so we will continue to wait with some expectation for the first Inspectorate report of English fire and rescue services for some time.

One extremely significant report that was issued in October and was surely not missed by anyone connected in any way to Fire and Rescue was Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report.  There are four volumes which amount to a substantial read for anyone interested in what has been said.  We have mentioned previously that we have thought the Inquiry started in the wrong place, but I understand Sir Martin Moore-Bick had his reasons for starting the Inquiry at what happened on the night of the fire and the report has been released now.  We will be watching very closely through Phase 2 to understand why a cladding system that did not comply with building regulations ended up on the side of Grenfell Tower and hundreds of other buildings across the country.  Why the internal fire safety and compartmentation was so poor and why the apparent lack of fire competence in the design and build of buildings has reached the state it has. 

The lessons identified by the Phase 1 report are extensive and the NFCC, along with many others will look at the recommendations, analyse what they truly mean in terms of practicality and resource and then work to improve fire and rescue service response across the country to provide the best possible services to our communities.  Some things are already moving, the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have already written to fire authorities and chief fire officers urging them to consider the report but then work with the NFCC to move the recommendations forward.  This is yet another area where it will be better to work together, collaborate, learn from each other and do things once, not many times.  Work has already started in a number of areas, including the evaluation of smoke hoods through our Operations Committee and the start of a significant piece of work on the practicalities of changing from a Stay Put building strategy to complete emergency evacuation.  NFCC has lobbied for this research for some time and now a Steering Group is being established by MHCLG to oversee the work — a welcome development.

During the week of the report announcement I did quite a few media interviews questioning the  NFCC about the report, especially what it said about London Fire Brigade.  Our message was consistent, there are things to learn, things to consider and things to improve for us all, in addition we do think everyone from LFB did all they could to help on the night.  We absolutely understand the hurt and pain that people still feel, especially the bereaved, survivors and residents.  But some of the attacks on Dany Cotton, many very personal, are hard to accept.  If there are the systemic failures that Sir Martin Moore-Bick talks about, they cannot, by the very nature of being systemic, be the fault of a single person.  Dany took on the role of Commissioner six months before that tragic fire and is determined to help LFB move forward in the time she remains as Commissioner.

One of the consequences of the Grenfell report, in addition to the Hackitt review and associated work, plus the success of the NFCC is that we have more things we need to do than we have resource to move forward on.  We are reviewing our strategy to help shape our work and had an excellent session at our autumn conference to start to shape the review of the strategy.  But prioritisation is a must, add in the new Protection Board and continued assurance of ACM clad buildings , the three NFCC programmes, the committees, national guidance for protection and prevention, the maintenance of National Operational Guidance and work arising from the Fire Standards Board we get see the dilemma we are facing.  That all comes before the State of Fire report, which I have no doubt will have some further recommendations.  There is an urgent need for investment in to Fire and Rescue, there have been some encouraging signs from Government, for instance the £10 million to support the work of the Protection Board, the investment in Fire Standards and some talk of more resource to assist NFCC with its work.  This is all very encouraging and welcome, but I still wonder if Government has the desire to invest the type of money required for significant change.  Is the Fire and Rescue Service a big enough prize to attract major investment?

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