Chair's Blog

02-09-19

Defining Autumn Announcements?

As we move into September following a summer that has seen some record temperatures and extremely heavy rainfall, we are reminded climate extremes are just one of the challenges facing the Fire and Rescue Service, not only in the UK but across the world.  Witness the wildfires in the Amazon and across central Africa that concern us all. 

Closer to home NFCC worked with partners to deal with another weather related emergency at Whaley Bridge.  Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service did an excellent job in leading the fire response, ably supported by yet another national resilience response that saw support from 15 other fire and rescue services.  High volume pumps, boats, tactical advisers, NRATs and NSATs within the National Co-ordination and Advisory Framework (NCAF) saw us work in a successful multi-agency response to mitigating the flood inundation risk to the town.  My congratulations to Chief Fire Officer Terry McDermott and his team.  Terry retires from the Fire Service soon and I know he was very pleased with a professional job well done.

Whilst weather related events will have a role in defining fire and rescue work well into the future there are a number of announcements and events over the autumn and into the winter that are very likely to define and shape our future as Fire and Rescue Services.  Some, such as Sir Tom Winsor’s ‘State of the Nation’ report for Fire are specific to England, most will affect the FRS across the UK.

The first announcement comes just a few days after the release of this blog.  That is the Spending Review, brought forward to 4th September.  It is not a comprehensive spending review which tend to announce figures for 3 years, but will be important.  As ever, Fire is included in a myriad of demands on Government spending, the NHS, Social Care, Education, Welfare and the well-publicised announcement of 20,000 new police officers.  In some ways this makes our ask relatively small and it can be argued that a little bit of government spend would go a long way in the Fire Service.  On the other hand, this smaller ask can go against us as Treasury argue we can find it in existing budgets.  Two things I will be looking for are the employers’ extra pension costs going into base budgets and additional money for Fire Protection.  I am far from convinced that we will see anything for FRS pay in England or precept flexibility, although the latter is more likely. 

Money for Protection will complement the introduction of a new Protection Board in England.  This Board has been established between Home Office, MHCLG, LGA and NFCC to have a national (English) oversight and support of Protection work in Fire Services.  I was asked by Nick Hurd as Fire Minister to chair the Board which will meet for the first time in September following a workshop we have held already and development of the terms of reference.  London Fire Brigade, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue and Mark Hardingham as NFCC Protection chair will all be members.  I am hoping that this will be supported by imminent announcements on the early focus of the Approved Document B revision.

Another announcement that may have far reaching implications is the release of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report.  I have written and talked extensively about the NFCC view on where the inquiry started i.e. at the emergency response rather than the causes of the disaster.  NFCC has also called for the report to be balanced, but there are likely to be lessons highlighted and possibly recommendations to respond to.  Two areas than may attract some focus are high rise firefighting procedure and ‘Stay Put’.  National Operational Guidance has already been adapted following early work through National Operational Learning (NOL).  I would urge any colleagues who step away from NOG to think seriously about the consequences and work with NFCC and NOL to change things together, if change is necessary.  If you think there is a better way of doing things, share that with everyone and consider what different procedures may do to cross border working.  On ‘Stay Put’ I have written to Home Office and MHCLG to encourage properly funded research into this building strategy and any move to an emergency evacuation, including full building evacuation.

It will be interesting to see what Sir Tom Winsor has to say in his first ever report on the state of the Fire and Rescue Service in England.  We have seen themes emerging from the inspection reports including the good performance in emergency response, the patchy collaboration and efficiency and the lack of resource in Protection.  Other matters, including consistency and culture have also come to the surface in a way we largely expected.  Our NFCC response to Sir Tom’s request for input will be on our website soon, it includes context as well as challenges, the context of 15 years of localism following the 2004 Fire Services Act and over ten years of austerity.  Once again I am hopeful for a balanced report from Sir Tom that recognises the great work fire services and their staff do every day, alongside areas identified for improvement which are inevitable and largely welcomed.

Other announcements that will help define our future revolve around pay and pensions, although I am not sure there will be any government announcements on pensions following the employment tribunal ruling before 2020.  Pay is another matter, the 2% offer from the employers has been recommended for acceptance by the Fire Brigades Union, alongside the continuing possibility of a different deal in Scotland and with Wales watching both with interest.  There is no doubt that any acceptance of the 2% will not be the end of the discussions and NFCC will play its part in supporting the employers to achieve a longer lasting and acceptable settlement.

So, the last months of 2019 could be significant for the Fire and Rescue Service and we will need to continue to work together to ensure a strong, professional, valued and relevant Fire and Rescue Service for the future.  Within NFCC we will continue this journey through many programmes, projects and committee work starting with a refresh of the NFCC strategy to ensure we have a three year rolling strategy and plan that supports Fire and Rescue Services, Fire Authorities and ultimately the communities we serve across the UK.

On a personal note to finish, I completed the Firefighter Challenge in just over 4 and a half minutes. Setting personal goals and striving to achieve them is just another aspect of continuous improvement.

 

 

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