Proposals include changes to how local services are governed and more powers for fire chiefs
As expected, the Government’s long-awaited White Paper on fire service reform in England included proposals around changing the governance of local fire services.
Entitled ‘Reforming our fire and rescue services: building professionalism, boosting performance and strengthening governance’, it proposes changes in respect of the operational independence of chief fire officers, the introduction of new entry and promotion requirements, and a review of the National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services.
In addition, it sets out proposals on ethics and for a new oath for employees, as well as proposals that will have a particular impact on county fire and rescue services.
The LGA believes it should be for local areas to determine how they are governed. Transfers of fire governance to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) or combined authority mayors should only be made where there is local agreement to the transfer.
While it is welcome that the transfers of governance are no longer mandatory, the Government’s preferred governance model is one that has a single elected, preferably directly elected, executive leader.
The White Paper states this can be a mayor, PCC, or a county leader, where fire services already sit within a county council. The Government will discuss with local areas their governance preferences.
The LGA believes that there should be an opportunity to challenge and discuss the transfer of governance at a local level, so that there is assurance the community will receive the service that is right for it and issues around police and fire service borders can be considered from the outset. As with levelling up, real change and improvement within the sector and communities will be more successful if local councils and fire services are empowered to decide what their local governance structure will be, based on the needs of their communities.
The White Paper proposes changes to the relationship between chief fire officers (CFO) and their members, including giving the CFO operational independence and possibly establishing them as a ‘corporation sole’. This would mean a CFO, in a similar way to police chief constables, would be a legal entity in their own right, occupying a single, incorporated office.
“It should be for local areas to determine how they are governed”
They would become the employer of firefighters and staff working for the service, and would also have legal authority over certain decisions and functions.
The question of corporation sole will, therefore, require careful examination, particularly for those fire services within county councils.
The political and operational leadership of fire services have distinct, but complementary, roles to play in delivering the services their communities want at a local level.
There will be times when both political and operational leadership will need to have an input into decisions that affect the running of the service. How this process works is best determined at a local level and this should not be undermined.
The White Paper contains a wide-ranging number of proposals, and will be discussed further at the LGA’s Fire Commission and the Fire Services Management Committee.
The LGA will be submitting a response to the consultation on the White Paper, which ends on 26 July.