Leading the fire sector

Fire and rescue authorities have always played an important role in keeping their local communities safe by providing oversight of the performance of their local fire services.

In the past, this was relatively straightforward and involved securing assurance that a fairly narrow range of core statutory services were meeting nationally prescribed standards. This is no longer the case. As the sector has had to respond to individual incidents, government policy change and an increasingly restrictive financial environment, the role of services and authorities has evolved.

Members of fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) must now grapple with a range of challenging issues coming out of the recent inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, alongside new requirements that are likely to result from the outcomes of the Grenfell Inquiry.

To support members in this work, the LGA has launched a new guide, ‘Oversight of fire and rescue performance’, written by ex-Chief Fire Officer Andy Fry, of Greston Associates.

The Government’s National Framework for fire and rescue includes a specific requirement for FRAs to hold their chief fire officers to account, and, ultimately, responsibility for each service rests with the corresponding authority. In the fire context, members are heavily reliant on senior officers’ advice to set policy tailored to the needs of local communities. This relationship is therefore key to members’ ability to lead change and effect improvement.

The LGA’s guide gives a valuable insight into the complexities of the fire landscape, the role of fire and rescue authorities in that context, and how members can make a difference to that environment. In particular, it focuses on how members can cultivate an effective relationship with their senior officers characterised by openness, honesty, mutual respect, high levels of trust and constructive challenge.

‘Oversight of fire and rescue performance’ also uses real examples to demonstrate the value of constructive challenge. For example, in 2017, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority commissioned an independent review of its governance arrangements. The review was designed to ensure that the authority was aware of its strengths and weaknesses, and that its governance arrangements were driving performance improvement.

The review focused on several key areas, helping to strengthen governance and focus the minds of elected members on their key roles and responsibilities. In particular, the fire authority’s constitution was amended to ensure that it better addressed the expectations set out in the new National Framework.

The guide has been developed to help elected members to scrutinise and oversee the work of their senior officers. Whether an experienced fire and rescue authority member or someone a bit newer to the role, councillors should find the guide useful and informative.

Support for fire services 

‘Oversight of fire and rescue performance’ is part of a range of support the LGA offers fire authorities and their members, and it can be downloaded free at www.local.gov.uk/publications.

For more details of our support offer – including our fire authority members’ guide, the Leadership Essentials programme, and the fire peer challenge offer – please visit www.local.gov.uk/topics/fire-and-rescue.

The LGA holds a series of training events for fire authority members throughout the year, with sessions on ‘Leading in the fire sector: culture, diversity and inclusion’ kicking off in the new year, and its annual fire conference and exhibition taking place in Blackpool from 10-11 March – see www.local.gov.uk/events.

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