The first stage of a wide-ranging review of the fire and rescue service in England has been completed last week with the submission to ministers of four reports.
Fire Futures has reviewed the role, efficiency, accountability, decentralisation and ‘national interests’ of the fire and rescue service.
The four ‘sector-led’ reports put forward a range of ideas on how the fire and rescue service can work to address current and future challenges, and present new models and options for delivering fire and rescue services.
The reports comprise:
- The Role of the Fire and Rescue Service, which offers a series of short and long term options to provide additional powers and responsibilities for fire and rescue services and authorities to tackle barriers and improve service delivery
- Efficiency, Effectiveness and Productivity – which is driven partly by the government’s spending review and has suggested a new sector-owned procurement process, clearer asset management strategies and further consideration of charging and trading mechanisms
- Localism and Accountability – a range of options on transparency, accountability, decentralisation and localism
- National Interests – proposes a more resilient built environment and a more joined-up approach to knowledge management. It was established to consider the role of fire and rescue services within the national context, proposing measures such as national functions, interoperability and knowledge management.
In their introduction to the reports, the chairman of the four workstreams said:
“These reports mark the outcome of the first stage of the review. They present a series of short, medium and long term options which can stand alone or, in many cases, be combined. The reports are not a blueprint for the future of fire and rescue provision; rather they are a menu of options which merit careful consideration and further development.”
The government says each of the options will be considered against its commitment to localism, decentralisation, and transparency, while also delivering value for money, and it will respond formally to the reports by March 2011. But ministers have indicated that they will not be taking forward some of the more controversial proposals – a new levy on home insurance and motor insurance policies; charging for road traffic accidents; and charging higher council tax for fire services in urban areas.
Some of the options for consideration coming from the reports, says the government, include: taking power away from the centre and placing it locally; a less prescriptive National Framework setting out national and local roles and the rights and expectations communities should have of the fire and rescue service; and exploring the scope for closer working between fire and ambulance services.
"The fire sector does need to lead change so that it can continue to provide the excellent service communities have come to expect,” said fire minister, Bob Neill. “But government also has a role to play, handing freedoms back to fire authorities. We have already listened and started with proposals in the Localism Bill, freeing fire and rescue authorities from constantly needing government approval, and [making] greater use of their assets and capacity to support the Big Society."