22 May 2013 by David Smith, FIA, FIRESA Secretary

Sir Ken Knight’s recently-published report, ‘Facing The Future’ is, as we speak, being digested by a range of organisations including central and local government; CFOA (Chief Fire officers Association); representative trade bodies and indeed, many individual companies with a vested interest in the Fire and Rescue sector. While the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has already described the review as ‘just a fig leaf for slashing our Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) to bits’, it is probable that such a high profile set of discussion points will, in time, have a huge effect on the future joint or individual delivery models of our Fire and Rescue Services.

FIRESA [now part of the FIA] was pleased to have acted as contributors to Sir Ken’s review and is delighted to find that our key recommendations have found their way into the final report. Among these is the observation that the 46 Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) in England have different governance structures and delivery models; an example of government’s much-vaunted localism policy but one that acts as a fundamental barrier to achieving collective efficiencies and made worse by a paucity of sector leadership and sharing of best practice.

The report refers also to duplication in the design, commissioning and evaluation of firefighting products and notes that in order to achieve interoperability, there needs to be a more sensible approach to product customisation. The FIRESA Council has for some time been promoting the concept of a centralised national product evaluation scheme and sincerely hopes that this public recognition of the issue will give its much-needed resolution the necessary impetus. Of course, this also requires clear output-based specifications for products and the report references a possible collaboration between FIRESA and CFOA in order to deliver these.

On procurement, the report makes reference to potential finance and other resource savings while noting the benefit of several Framework contracts that remain active. Sir Ken sees the way forward as encouraging collective public body procurement for generic items while for specialist FRS equipment, the Authorities should never buy alone unless they have negotiated a substantive bargain, in which case this experience should be shared. The Cabinet Office’s procurement pipeline has potential but is not currently used by many FRAs.

There are many other areas where fire and rescue suppliers will be impacted according to the forward momentum or otherwise of other discussion points, many of which refer to changes already evident in relative isolation. These include FRS mergers and shared services; mutuals and privatization; co-responding with other blue light services; changes to the on-call/permanent fire fighter ratio; a shift from traditional fire appliances to smaller specialised vehicles; and the developing role of the Fire Service College. The future trajectories of many of these changes appear to be mutually exclusive and strongly dependent on local rather than national political will and so concerted progress is improbable. It’s also true to say that many would disagree vehemently with some of the proposals but for those ideas that have unequivocal merit, let us hope to see these implemented for the benefit of us all.