Agenda item

Sector Reform Update

Report of the Chief Fire Officer


Damien West, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, presented the report updating Members on the Government consultation response to the ‘Reforming Our Fire and Rescue Service’, and highlighted the following points:


(a)  In response to findings from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and learning from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, in May 2022, the Government launched a White Paper consulting on reform to fire and rescue services (FRSs). The consultation ran from 18 May to 26 July 2022 and outlined three areas of people, professionalism and governance. The consultation received 290 responses in total.


(b)  The Government’s response has also been influenced by more recent investigations into culture and leadership in FRSs, including the London Fire Brigade Independent Culture Review, the Spotlight review and subsequent inspections by HMICFRS.


(c)  Several pieces of work have been ongoing in the area of ‘people’ prior to the publication of Government’s response. New legislation was introduced to enable FRSs to undertake enhanced disclosure and barring checks, new leadership programmes have been launched, and April 2023 saw the launch of the Direct Entry Scheme pilot for Station Managers. The Government’s response provides little additional information beyond monitoring these pieces of work and ensuring they are embedded consistently across FRSs.


(d)  The response confirms the Government’s position that they believe the role of FRSs is clear in relation to firefighting, community safety, and national resilience / civil contingencies. It also restates the Government’s commitment to FRSs collaborating with other partner agencies, particularly in health and policing.


(e)  The Government states they will support employers to work with representative bodies to review the National Joint Council and pay negotiation mechanisms through an inclusive processwhich the Home Office aim to be completed by early 2024.


(f)  The Government response also states that if the review does not result in meaningful change, the Home Office will explore other routes to ensure a modern, fair pay system that constructively enables role reform in England. In particular, the Government would like to see consideration of scope for variation and self-determination including by types of services and by location.


(g)  There are brief mentions of issues in relation to improving workforce diversity and addressing the recruitment and retention of on-call firefighters, with the Government committing to continuing to work with partners on these issues.


(h)  The White Paper proposed establishing a separate, independent, professional body which would build on the existing work of both the NFCC and the Fire Standards Board in setting and maintaining professional standards for FRSs. This proposal took the form of a College of Fire and Rescue (CoFR) and suggested that this new body could mirror the existing College of Policing.


(i)  The NFCC has been working with the Home Office to develop these proposals since the consultation was launched. The White Paper response confirms Government’s commitment to establish a CoFR and states that they will work with partners to develop the most appropriate delivery model. The Government also states that data and research are also expected to be key pillars of the CoFR.


(j)  Following the establishment of a CoFR, the Government states that they will legislate to create powers which will allow certain aspects of professional standards, including the Fire Service Core Code of Ethics, to be placed on a statutory footing and applied by Chief Fire Officers in their FRSs.


(k)  In relation to Governance, the White Paper focused on the perceived benefits of single point accountability and agreed with HMICFRS’s recommendation that Chief Fire Officers should be afforded operational independence similar to Police Chief Constables, however details on the specifics of this are still to be established.


(l)  The Government states they will not, at this stage, be mandating transfers of Fire and Rescue Authority functions to Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners where they are not already in place, the Home Office will make changes to streamline the process of voluntary transfers.


(m)  The Government will also support elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners to take on fire governance functions where they cover the same area as the FRS. This could include the Combined County Mayors being established in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act.


(n)  The response also states that steps will be taken to improve the transparency of how FRS budgets are allocated where they are governed by county councils and unitary authorities, through changes to the National Framework Document which is highlighted as being reviewed to implement many of the changes from this consultation.


(o)  Many of the consultation responses require further detail for the implications to be clearly understood and, whilst the Government highlights that they aim to implement changes at the earliest opportunity, it is considered unlikely that any of the required legislative change, or changes to the National Framework Document, will take place prior the next General Election due to the timescales and existing Parliamentary commitments.


During the discussion that followed the following comments were made:


(p)  It is not clear what the Home Office would like to replace the National Joint Council with, but there has been pushback on the Home Office as it is felt that this is not something they have responsibility for. The Government is providing the funding for the review of the National Joint Council and there is hope that the Home Office will comply with the findings of the review.


(q)  The NFCC is working with the Home Office on the development of a CoFR as it has a very clear view on the minimum service level provisions that are required, so they have concerns which have been raised with the Home Office.


Resolved to


(1)  Note the report.


(2)  Agree to receive further updates on sector reform at future meetings.


Supporting documents: