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15-01-20

NFCC responds to the first national State of Fire report

The first State of Fire report has been published today with a number of recommendations for fire services across England.

The report, written by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, Tom Winsor, is the culmination of the first independent inspections carried out for well over a decade.

The National Fire Chiefs Council Chair, Roy Wilsher, acknowledges the recommendations while stating that the fire and rescue service is not influenced by the inspectorate’s recommendations alone and HMICFRS is one of several influential stakeholders. 

There are other factors to consider, including the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations, national operational learning, government and employers’ aims. It is important to note the recommendations all have interdependencies and require a joined-up approach.

The report highlights that the sector has many strengths and states: ‘The determination and dedication to protect life and property are second to none’. Operational response is highlighted as a strength and the report references the public perception survey, which shows 98% of people are satisfied with their fire service.

The four recommendations in the State of Fire Report are

The Home Office, in consultation with the fire and rescue service, should determine the role of a fire and rescue service and a firefighter: NFCC believes this should be risk and evidence-based as lists of activities do not help.

The Home Office with the Local Government Association, NFCC and trade unions to review whether the current pay negotiation machinery needs fundamental reform: NFCC is happy to be engaged in this work as we are working much closer with employers.

Considering the case for legislating to give chief fire officers operational independence: There is some thought that the operational independence given to chief constables is a suitable operational model. This could make operational decision making clearer in often complex governance structures.

Produce a code of ethics for the fire sector: Once again, NFCC is very happy to be engaged in this work and will work with the LGA on this recommendation.

Mr Wilsher commented: “I am pleased to see the first State of Fire report which highlights fire services’ unique strengths, while outlining areas for improvement. However, work must be joined-up and not carried out in isolation.

“Reduced protection capacity is an area which has been highlighted consistently by HMICFRS, which is directly related to austerity and the subsequent 23 per cent reduction in wholetime firefighters since 2010. This needs addressing, but it cannot be at the cost of essential duties such as prevention.”

Mr Wilsher added: “Building regulations are referenced throughout HMICFRS’s report, but a degree of caution needs to be shown as overall responsibility lies with government and local authorities, not fire services. The repercussions of the failure of buildings regulations system is clear. It is imperative the failure of the building regulations system is not placed at the door of the FRS.

“There should be more recognition of NFCC’s National Resilience capability, rather than it being referenced as FRSs working ‘side by side’. There are processes and frameworks in place to support both national and international deployments.

“While culture is a theme running throughout the report, NFCC feels this area needs a stronger evidence-base to further understand if there is a culture of bullying in a small number of services, or whether it is actually something else such as resistance to change or national factors such as pay and pensions. We are not complacent about this; we already have a national People Programme to look at these areas and to ensure we are nurturing and attracting the best talent to the sector.

“In earlier recommendations from HIMCFRS, I was pleased to see that the role of NFCC was highlighted and the recognition that the majority of our work is carried out on a voluntary basis, which is again mentioned in the State of Fire Report.”

Mr Wilsher thanked all services for all their hard work preparing for the inspections and will continue to work with HMICFRS to shape future inspections, which are due to start this year.

Recommendations:

  1. By June 2020, the Home Office, in consultation with the fire and rescue sector, should determine the role of (a) a fire and rescue service and (b) a firefighter.
  2. By June 2020, the Home Office, the Local Government Association, the National Fire Chiefs Council and trade unions should consider whether the current pay negotiation machinery needs fundamental reform. If so, a plan for reform should be established and an independent pay review body considered. This should also include consideration of the future of the ‘grey book’ and whether it should be replaced with local contracts.
  3. By August 2020, the Home Office should consider the case for legislating to give chief fire officers operational independence. In the meantime, it should issue clear guidance, possibly through an amendment to the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, on the demarcation between governance by the fire and rescue authority and operational decision-making by the chief fire officer.
  4. By June 2020, NFCC, with the Local Government Association, should produce a code of ethics for the fire sector. The code should be adopted by every fire and rescue service in England and considered as part of each employee’s progression and annual performance appraisal.

Prior to the State of Fire Report, two recommendations were made following the first two sets of inspections:

  1. The sector to achieve greater consistency across four areas, including identifying and determining risk, defining what constitute high-risk premises for the purposes of protection, and how to consistently identify and measure response standards. NFCC has an established national Community Risk Programme which supports the recommendation to identify risk and vulnerability. This is one of NFCC’s strategic priorities.
  2. The Home Office to address the deficit in the fire sector’s national capacity and capability to support change.

 

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