News

17-03-21

We respond to HMICFRS's latest State of Fire report

Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) across England have today been praised in the latest State of Fire Report. This includes their ability to respond to a broad range of emergencies - with commendable skills and professionalism – while highlighting staff are committed to protecting local communities.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) - found fire services rose to the challenges of the pandemic; welcomed necessary changes to improve fire and building safety; and noted progress has been made on introducing a code of ethics.

The author Sir Tom Winsor states that ‘it is not a sector which is standing still’ and it is ‘encouraging to see services responding constructively to last year’s report’.

Responding to the report, NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher commented: “I am incredibly proud of everything FRSs have achieved, with particular emphasis on how staff rose to the challenge and undertook the incredible work related to the pandemic. I am pleased to see the report recognises this, the professionalism of staff and NFCC’s national role to make this happen.

“It also quite rightly acknowledges FRSs are not standing still with progress being made in many areas. This is all supported and underpinned by NFCC’s national programmes of work – for example, I am pleased the report praises NFCC’s inclusion strategy and our online platform to disseminate information and best practice across the UK FRS.”

I am pleased to see the report recognises the professionalism of staff and NFCC’s national role to make this happen.

Roy Wilsher

“Protection is a key focus of NFCC’s work with a dedicated national team working on this, in conjunction with government and the sector. This is both in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and subsequent government building safety reviews and bills. The failure of the building regulations system is abundantly clear, yet it is imperative that the consequences of this are not placed at the door of the FRS.

“The issues are systemic and the FRS is part of a much bigger solution and are playing a lead role across the building fire safety landscape. This Protection role, for both the NFCC and FRS, will require continued funding to ensure that FRS are appropriately resourced to manage this emerging area of risk.”   

HMICFRS says significant reform is needed, both locally and nationally, which echoes last year’s findings. They have identified areas for improvement which include lack of race and gender diversity; a change in the law to give Chief Fire Officers (CFOs) operational independence; and Government allocation of funding should be reviewed. It also states strong leadership is needed to shape the future of the service.

Addressing the areas of concern, Mr Wilsher said: “I agree there are areas where improvement and reform is required. However, much of this cannot be achieved by CFOs and FRSs in isolation. This is echoed by the report which states that the sector ‘needs clear national direction’.

“We support the call for reform, and this needs a measured, resourced and coordinated approach. It is part of a much bigger picture which includes government, and a range of other stakeholders and partners playing a vital role. I am interested to see how the forthcoming government Fire Reform White Paper will help to shape this."

While this year’s State of Fire recognises that ”staff worked exceptionally hard to help their communities in different ways throughout the pandemic”, it highlights the tripartite agreements in place for agreed additional activities were too prescriptive, with deployment decisions sometimes being unnecessarily delayed.

These difficulties are further represented in the State of Fire which emphasises in both reports that the mechanism (National Joint Council) for pay, terms and conditions is ‘failing and a barrier to change,’ and questions a UK-wide mechanism. NFCC is involved in a project exploring this with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Home Office.

Mr Wilsher added: “NFCC has a number of national programmes of work underway which will help to address the issues raised. We have programmes on leadership, people, digital & data, and risk. These are all well developed and will focus on delivering improvements for staff, FRSs and most importantly, communities across the UK.”

Gender and race diversity are key themes and the report makes clear that no FRS is near having a workforce representative of its community, which needs to be tackled. NFCC agree that diversity is a central component to being a great service. Fire services across the country are working tirelessly to improve inclusivity and to clearly show through recruitment, retention, staff development and all processes that the fire and rescue service offers a great career for everyone and anyone.

Mr Wilsher thanked all FRS for their hard work preparing for the next round of inspections and NFCC will continue to work with HMICFRS to inform and shape future inspections, so they support the continuous improvement of the FRS.

Recommendations:

There are no new recommendations, new dates have been set for the six already in place and these dates take account of the impact on progress due to the pandemic.

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Home Office to address the deficit in the fire sector’s national capacity and capability to support change.
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