Next steps for fire reform
Earlier this week, I delivered a major speech to the fire sector setting out that I want to see reform go further and faster. I want to thank Reform for hosting the event on Tuesday, and for their ongoing interest in public sector reform.
I’m pleased that my speech was met with such optimism in the room, and the questions posed by the audience afterwards showed a genuine appetite to take on this challenge and to take ownership of it. I have always been clear that I want the reform agenda to be owned and shaped by the service rather than by Whitehall.
As I said on Tuesday, I am always impressed by the dedication our firefighters show and the vital role they play to protect our communities. I am encouraged by the transformation and collaboration I have seen in the sector, but I believe more needs to be done for it to be more accountable, efficient and professional than ever before.
I am now more confident than ever that 2017 will be the year that we see real change.
This year will see a significant shift in terms of scrutiny of the sector, with the introduction of a new inspectorate for the fire service. Modelled on Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the inspectorate will put an end to the practice of chief fire officers handpicking their own reviewer and setting their own terms of reference. My ambition is for the first inspection to take place later this year.
To further professionalise the service, I will also be establishing a new professional standards body for everyone in fire and rescue which will build a framework of standards for the service on a range of issues including leadership, workforce development, equality and diversity. This will also enable the sector to identify what good practice is, capture it and then share it.
And it is diversity in particular where I want to see the service really take ownership. The lack of diversity in the sector is woeful, with just 4 per cent of the workforce from an ethnic minority background and just 5% female. We can, and must, do better and I will not accept a lack of movement on this.
In 2017/18 and beyond, I expect to see an increase in the pace and ambition of collaboration between the emergency services, as better joint working can strengthen our emergency services, deliver significant savings to the taxpayer and – most importantly – enable them to better protect the public. The Policing and Crime Act which received Royal Assent last week provides the emergency services will the legislative platform to seize collaboration opportunities locally. The new statutory duty to collaborate will come into force in April 2017 and I expect to see joint working between the emergency services become the norm.
The Act also enables police and crime commissioners to make a local case to take on responsibility for the governance of their local fire and rescue service to bring the same direct accountability to fire as they do to policing and to maximise the benefits of joint working. I expect all fire and rescue authorities to cooperate with police and crime commissioners developing local business cases to determine whether a transfer of governance would be in the best interests of local communities.
Finally, the sector needs to be more transparent so the public has trust in how the service is performing. This year will see the creation of a new fire website, which will host a range of data to help the public assess the performance of their local service as well as information about chief officer pay, expenditure, accounts, efficiency plans and workforce composition. Police.uk is incredibly popular and I hope this site will be just as valued by the public. I will also be repeating the procurement exercise I published last year and hope to see the gap between what services have paid for items to have narrowed, as well as asking chiefs to set out what they pay for wider services such as facilities management and training.
Yet while I can set the wheels in motion, the service understands it must shape and deliver these changes. It is for their benefit and the benefit of the communities they serve, and I look forward to seeing services step up and deliver.