Last year the first inspections of fire and rescue services for 12 years took place. The inspections demonstrated that the sector is good at understanding the risks it deals with, good at preventing emergencies and good at responding to them.
They have also highlighted a lot of good practice in every area of activity. Now, one of the challenges for the LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee (FSMC) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is to ensure that the best of that good practice is effectively shared.
However, the generally positive verdict on the effectiveness of the sector should not distract us from the fact that this is the core business of the service, so there is no room for complacency here. The mixed results on efficiency suggest some services are struggling to deal with the current financial challenges and many of the results in the ‘people’ (workforce) inspection theme were poor.
We are good at recruiting the right people and our efforts to recruit a more diverse workforce – which will obviously take time to bear fruit – have been acknowledged. But there are less comforting results in terms of performance management, leadership development and a failure to promote positive values and culture.
Governance was not covered in these inspections, but it is the members of fire authorities who are legally responsible for the service. Fire authority members have a duty to ensure that their service responds effectively to any finding of inadequacy or requirement to improve as well as to specific causes of concern.
In order to fulfil their statutory role, fire authorities need to assure themselves that their chief fire officer has a plan in place to address any issues arising from inspection; that the plan is adequate; and that it is acted upon effectively. We need to give our chiefs the support they require to deliver improvement and we need to hold them to account for delivering it.
To support this process, the FSMC is in the process of commissioning a toolkit for all fire and rescues authorities (FRAs) to improve the way they scrutinise and challenge their services and, in particular, how they address and respond to the outcomes of the inspection.
We are continually adapting and modifying the LGA’s peer support framework to reflect the changing needs and improvement priorities of FRAs. Peer support can cover a broad or narrow range of issues and can be tailored to an FRA’s needs and used to prepare for or respond to inspection.
Subject to the outcome of negotiations with government over improvement funding, the FSMC also plans to offer the equalities framework peer challenge free of charge to priority FRAs, adapt the LGA Leadership Programme to consider the relationship between FRA chairs, FRAs and chief fire officers, and to re-run the culture, inclusion and diversity events that have taken place this year.
We will continue to look at ways in which FRAs can share best practice, including learning from each other’s experience of responding to inspection.