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Project Engineer, UL

February 4, 2013

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The Greater Manchester FRS Special Relationship

A Manchester company, Business Regulation Solutions (BRS), has a relationship with the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS). The fire service prints and places an advertising flyer for BRS in all “general” letters it sends out to businesses in its area. This includes letters informing the responsible person of a scheduled inspection visit by an enforcing officer from the GMFRS.

The flyer clearly indicates that the GMFRS is giving second-party approval to a single company based in its area of jurisdiction. This approval is so wholehearted that the GMFRS has a page on its website dedicated to BRS.

Ethical?
This has to be a market advantage, and it could be copied by other emergency services. What if the police handed out advertising leaflets for security system providers while investigating a breakin? What if the ambulance service gave cards for solicitors to the injured at the scene of an accident? I think that, ethically, the police and ambulance service wouldn’t agree to such practices, yet the GMFRS seems to have no ethical objections to advertising BRS through its website and administration letters.

It gives rise to some questions about just how ethical this practice is. Who paid for the printing of the flyers, the administration costs, and creating the BRS web page? And why BRS?

The GMFRS said that it has an absolute right to support any business it chooses, and that it chose BRS as a not-for-profit organization. However, following a freedom of information request, it did not elaborate on the transparency of this decision or at what level it was taken. Neither did it explain the selection process in any detail.

Business Regulation Solutions is part of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and the head of protection at the GMFRS said BRS is “completely independent” of the fire service. But the BRS web page says it was established “as a partnership between Manchester Solutions, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, the ten Greater Manchester Authorities and Warrington Borough Council.”

Click here to view Figure 1.

As far as I can ascertain, BRS holds no independent approvals for its training courses or for its fire risk assessor, who confirmed to me that he was not on any independent register of competence. According to the lists of courses approved by the professional bodies, BRS does not seem to have any independent approvals for its training courses.

On what basis does the GMFRS approve BRS? Someone from its enforcement department confirmed that it approved the courses after monitoring their content and delivery. As for the fire risk assessor used by BRS, “registers were not mandatory,” and the assessor is “a past GMFRS officer, and very qualified and experienced to do the job.”

What if a responsible person used BRS services, and the GMFRS found on a subsequent visit (say, after a fire) that the fire risk assessment was not suitable and sufficient? What would the enforcing authority do? The GMFRS says it wouldn’t hesitate to enforce rules as appropriate and, if needed, include BRS in any subsequent prosecution.

If I were a responsible person and this happened to me, I would be asking many awkward questions. I could quite rightly claim due diligence as a defense: “The experts in fire safety have told me the services of BRS meet the requirements of my business.” It has to be an impossible situation for the GMFRS, and it’s a needless one.

In a freedom of information request, the GMFRS was asked a number of questions about the level at which the decision to support only BRS was made. The fire service has not answered these questions at all.

The right message?
The fire and rescue service has a duty to inform the public by offering best-practice advice. The advice given to the responsible person by the government and by the fire and rescue service is the same as it was nearly six years ago, when the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order was introduced. This advice doesn’t actually follow current government policy on conformity assessment and accreditation.

The flyer sent to businesses says, “There are a large number of other providers offering similar high quality services.” Does that sentence actually follow current best-practices?

As experts in fire safety, the GMFRS is recommending only BRS, but out there, among all the other providers, there are some options as good as BRS, if not better. Where are they? How do I find one? What should I be looking for?

The government has stated that it wants the industry to take the lead on this issue. Through the Competence Council, this process has been started. It’s a real shame that the GMFRS and the vast majority of fire and rescue service authorities in England are so very poor at signposting the responsible person toward competent assessors. They claim to be the experts in fire safety, and they should be able to give advice that reflects UK government policy.

The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service was invited to respond to this article, but it declined to do so.

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gerry_dunphy
gerry_dunphy
February 4, 2013 7:45 am

Hi Simon-
That’s an interesting development to say the least. We’ll be looking at FRS charging and trading as part ofthe FIREX Academy seminar sessions at FIREX International as it clearly needs highlighting. The worrying point you make is regards to competency which surely has to be at the heart of this debate?

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
February 4, 2013 8:36 am
Reply to  gerry_dunphy

Absolutely! What also worries me is the apparent denial of a link between the firms.

SAdams
SAdams
February 7, 2013 9:02 am

BAFE has also been approached about this advertising flyer and Simon is quite right in raising it as a matter of concern. There is both the question of implied endorsement of a commercial organisation (whether it is a not for profit is irrelavent)and the fact that they do not hold any recognised approvals. The Responsible person has a difficult job to ensure that they can demonstrate that they have done everything possible to ensure they have complied with the requirements of the RRO. Surely every FRS should be promoting competence based on evidence, giving property managers a choice.

David Sibert
David Sibert
February 11, 2013 7:30 am

The Fire Brigades’ Union does not object in principle to fire and rescue services trading through so called ‘arm’s length companies’ or having relationships with entities such as BRS. However there are a few caveats to that position. 1) There should be no conflict of interest which has the potential to reflect badly on the fire and rescue service in the future. Recommending a company (with which the service has a relationship) to carry out fire risk assessments is clearly in conflict with the fact that the same service then audits those fire risk assessments under the Fire safety Order.… Read more »