The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is “looking forward” to working with Kit Malthouse, the newly-appointed Minister of State for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service at the Home Office. NFCC chair Roy Wilsher has outlined key areas for which he would like to see a continued and dedicated focus from central Government, including the major Grenfell Tower Inquiry and emerging issues, the Hackitt Review and reform of the Building Regulations and any forthcoming Government Spending Review.
Wilsher has urged the Government to progress crucial policy work in these areas, ensuring the best outcome for the public and Fire and Rescue Services across the country. He said: “It’s useful that our new minister is familiar with the building safety review from his time as housing minister. However, I’m disappointed it took a long time to name the politician with responsibility for fire. There are several high-profile areas which need progressing at pace, including the Grenfell Tower Inquiry which remains a major focus for the NFCC. Its findings will impact all Fire and Rescue Services and the wider sector.”
According to the NFCC’s leader, it’s imperative the Government doesn’t lose momentum on progressing these important issues, as the pace of change and reform – and especially so in terms of building safety – hasn’t moved quickly enough to date.
“The recent independent inspections of Fire and Rescue Services have found that many protection departments are struggling to maintain existing risk-based inspection programmes. The first two tranches of inspections report that protection work is under-resourced in many of the Fire and Rescue Services inspected and that budget reductions have disproportionately fallen on protection teams.”
Suffering under austerity
The NFCC’s chair added: “For the past decade, Fire and Rescue Services have suffered under austerity, with a 23% reduction in whole-time firefighters. It’s essential Fire and Rescue Services receive appropriate funding. This must be addressed by any future Comprehensive Spending Review to ensure they’re resourced to risk as well as demand. The Fire Service is reaching a tipping point where, put simply, any further funding cuts will pose an unacceptable risk to communities.”
While Fire and Rescue Services have reformed and made several efficiency moves in recent years, the NFCC is concerned that further funding reductions are unsustainable. Wilsher feels there must be a resilient Fire Service in place which can respond quickly and efficiently to a wide range of emergencies based on risk.
“The re-introduction of an inspection regime for Fire and Rescue Services highlights the benefits of national ways of working. The NFCC is keen to develop national policy positions and approaches across the Fire Service to ensure the public receive the same high level of service no matter where they live. This will take a significant amount of resources and expertise to execute. I’m keen to work with the new Conservative Cabinet to use HMICFRS’ findings and recommendations, in conjunction with the range of new and existing NFCC programmes, to implement change and transformation across the country.”
Another key element of ensuring the sector is held to robust standards is the development of the new independent Fire Standards Board, chaired by Suzanne McCarthy. This Board, which is currently running a series of pilots, will develop rigorous, consistent and fit-for-purpose standards which incorporate the views and learnings of a wide range of industry experts.