03 May 2013 by David Smith, FIA, FIRESA Secretary

If there’s one thing better than organising a worthwhile event, it’s having organised a worthwhile event. I tend to find them quite stressful and have a palpable sense of relief once it’s all over. The FIRESA Reception held on Thursday 2nd May at our office in Hampton was such an event and I’m pleased it’s ‘mission accomplished’.

The Reception formally welcomed our newest group of members, made up of companies that were integrated into the FIA from FIRESA at the start of April.

For those that are not aware, The FIA has provided FIRESA’s secretariat services for the last eight years but it was an independent body until the full merger last month, which was agreed earlier this year.

We started the morning with a session led by the FIRESA Council's trusty Chairman, Derek Gotts, looking at the FIRESA Council’s achievements over the past year and its future objectives. Few would doubt that the Fire and Rescue sector has been subject to significant transition over recent years and calmer waters are not yet on the horizon. As we move through 2013, the Fire and Rescue sector faces particular challenges both internally and under the influence of several external factors.

FIRESA was often described in its infancy as the official opposition to Firebuy, the organisation set up to administer the, then, ODPM’s National Procurement Strategy. I would argue that it was never as simple as that but with reports of Firebuy’s demise having been realised early in the Coalition government tenure in its ‘bonfire of the quangos’, the FIRESA Council’s work has evolved, and will continue to do so as a multi-dimensional body acting on all fronts on behalf of the fire fighting supply industry.

We also had two terrifically informative presentations from external speakers. First up was CFO Ian Hayton of Cleveland Fire and Rescue Service, perhaps currently one of the more controversial figures in the sector, given his plans to mutate the FRS into a public service mutual which would include their already-active commercial trading arm.

Ian explained that this is in response to government grant award cuts that have led him to implement radical changes in Cleveland’s service delivery model. The Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, is trying to push through the necessary regulatory changes that would allow this and any future mutuals to operate as legal Fire and Rescue Services although it was emphasised that this does not imply that all Services should become mutuals. It appears, however, that the very same changes in law would open the door not only to employer-led mutuals but to provision of these services by commercial organisations acting under the jurisdiction of the local Fire and Rescue Authority.

Next up was CFO Paul Fuller of Bedfordshire and Luton FRS who spoke in his role as Vice-President of the Chief Fire Officers Association. Touching on the previous issue, he noted the CFOA view that it is opposed to FRS privatisation before going on to discuss a number of issues that are presently being addressed. Among them was what he sees as the success of the Integrated Risk Management Planning approach by the FRS’s and the increasing levels of sophistication being applied to determining and responding to fire risks at a local level. Certainly, Paul sees this widening to become a shared process involving the full spectrum of the fire safety community and with the goal of making real safety improvements to the built environment.

The second part of the day offered a timely chance for our FIRESA-derived members to gain an initial overview of important information about the Associations’ activities from those members of the FIA Team who drive the various functions which will now serve the new FIRESA Council.

I’m delighted to report some very appreciative feedback immediately after the event and indeed, this morning as I opened my e-mail box. I hope one of our guests, Susan Munro of Monro Kempton Associates, doesn’t mind me quoting her saying ‘The day was extremely informative and useful in the context of what is happening regarding potential privatisation and the development of mutuals and the implications this will have on EU Procurement, Localism and the future of contracting. The speakers were excellent and humorous. Additionally, I was impressed by the services offered by the FIA and the wider benefits in addition to the all-important networking you can offer’.

Thank you Susan and finally, thanks to everyone who was involved and attended yesterday.