Chair's Blog

23-12-19

NFCC Chair reflects on 2019 and takes a look forward to the year ahead

Perhaps it is just the way of the world now, but as I usually do with these things, I looked back at my last blog for 2018. That blog said 2018 was a busy year and 2019 promised to be just the same, well ditto for 2019 and 2020! The issues we have faced in 2019 are familiar and will be familiar during 2020, but I suspect the focus on Fire and Rescue will increase with fire reforms and even legislation heading our way.

2019 yet again saw some excellent operational responses to national resilience, including Whaley Bridge and flooding in South Yorkshire; continued work on buildings with unsafe combustible cladding systems and even more building construction issues.  Too often we are seeing buildings constructed so poorly that the type of fire-spread seen at the Beechmere care home in Cheshire, Premier Inn in Bristol, residential buildings at Worcester Park London, and the student accommodation at the Cube Bolton is no longer unprecedented.  Build quality and building sign-off need to improve now so we do not store up even more problems for the future.

Building safety will continue to be a major theme in 2020 and the remediation of ACM 3 cladding systems must happen at pace to remove the risk to residents and firefighters, as I made clear when giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group during the summer.

The new Protection Board will provide a framework for auditing these buildings, but interim measures were never meant to last for over three years.  To support this much-needed improvement, the government has announced new legislation in the Queen’s Speech including extensions to the Fire Safety Order and the new building regulator.  At least with some certainty in the parliament, we may be able to get the extra powers we have been calling for to finally deal with this problem.

Very closely linked to the theme of building safety is the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) recommendations. NFCC will be working closely with London Fire Brigade and fire and rescue services across the UK to ensure we have a structured and effective approach to those recommendations.  The recommendations are far-reaching, encompassing building owners, local authority building control, government and many more; it will be a significant challenge to ensure the work is joined up and constructive.  An example of such cross-sector work is the new government-led work on the ‘Stay Put’ strategy.

NFCC, along with other organisations, has called for this research for some time, with the understanding that if buildings are built and maintained properly Stay Put is still a sound strategy.  But as I have already said we are not convinced by the current build quality and we have recognised that fire services may have to move to emergency evacuation, but we need robust guidance to support the fire and rescue incident commanders and decision-makers.

Stay Put is a building strategy, not a fire and rescue policy, so this cross-sector work is welcome.  One point I would make about the impact of the GTI phase one report is the pressure it has brought to one person; London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton.  I am still unsure how the systemic concerns raised by the report should be focussed on one person, even if that one person is at the head of the organisation.  Dany has my very best wishes for the future.  I also wish the very best for Dany’s successor, Andy Roe, it is going to be a tough job and Andy has my full support.

Other matters will also take up a lot of time and focus in the new year.  These include Sir Tom Winsor’s State of Fire report concerning fire and rescue services in England, I am sure there will be findings and recommendations that will inform our work through the year and beyond.  This links closely to the Fire Standards Board in England and the first standards will be seen in 2020. There will undoubtedly be a multi-year comprehensive spending review with the new government now in place.  Although fire and rescue did a little better with the single year spending review in 2019, we have been disappointed not to get the council tax flexibility we were asking for.  If we are to come anywhere near meeting the ambitions of the Hackitt review and increased protection activities whilst maintaining our operational response and prevention work, we will need to work with government colleagues to achieve an appropriate settlement for fire authorities.

To do this, NFCC will be working very closely with the Local Government Association Fire Service Management Committee to try and achieve the right financial settlement.  Closely linked to funding is the pay negotiations which are far from over.  Once again, NFCC will be working closely with employers – particularly the English employers – to try and settle the matter in a way that keeps the fire and rescue service relevant and adding value (see my June 2018 blog).

One internal focus is the work of the NFCC; we have been very successful in working together and with other stakeholders to improve fire and rescue services for our communities.  One consequence of this success and professionalism is the fact we are being asked to do more and more work.  We are happy to take this on but will need more resources to ensure we continue to be so professional. 

I am hopeful we will see some movement on this front in 2020.  This will be welcome as we refresh our strategy and develop our Strategic Improvement Model, the SIM.  The SIM is a process whereby NFCC analyses learning and recommendations from all relevant sources, the inspectorate, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Hackitt review, operational and organisation learning and develop themes for NFCC work.  This stops us reacting to single source learning or knee jerking to single events.  The SIM, along with the refreshed strategy will inform our priorities for the future and shape our plans and budget.

I think it is probably time to recharge the batteries for 2020.  My thoughts are with fire and rescue staff, all emergency service colleagues and others working over the festive period. 

My very best wishes, merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year to everyone.

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