31 May 2013 by David Smith, FIA, FIRESA Secretary

Blondie Hanging on the Telephone image

Unfortunately this isn’t a blog about Blondie’s greatest hits – we’ll save that for another week!

Just last week, the FIA was invited to participate in a phone-in, described as a radio phone-in without the radio, during which participants were able to put their questions on Sir Ken Knight’s recently-published report ‘Facing the Future' briefly to both Sir Ken and the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis.

With our CEO, Graham Ellicott, unavailable to make the call, I was invited to listen in and hopefully get a question to the ‘panel’.

We were told that there were 70 callers taking part, unknown apart from those who identified themselves as the questioners, and as time drew towards its one hour limit. I was not certain that I would be squeezed in and even if I were, I would have to scale down from the half a dozen questions that Graham and I had prepared. As luck would have it, I was selected as the final contributor and by then had elected to ask a somewhat general question concerning how some of the proposals might be taken forward but managing to refer to several of the issues that, given more time, we would have wished to cover in more depth.

I suppose my question was, in retrospect, too diffuse to get detailed answers but Sir Ken and the Minister latched onto the procurement element of what I had outlined and gave the clear message that collaborative procurement was to be encouraged. This particular point was the subject of a live vote, the result of which was that 85% of callers felt that there should be more shared procurement by the Fire and Rescue Services.

It was undoubtedly useful to have had this initial engagement so soon after publication of the report but with participants homing in on various details, it was never going to offer more than a sample of views on a small selection of the proposals. The key, I believe, will be government’s own formal response which is due in the Autumn and their willingness or otherwise to impose their own impetus where necessary. This remains a serious doubt for me given their localism approach and what appears to many to be a withdrawal of central government influence in fire safety and indeed, Sir Ken noted during the phone-in that the onus falls on the sector itself to take the proposals forward. Questions rather hang in the air, therefore, regarding exactly which of the proposals should be pursued, how consensus is to be achieved and whether, probably without government intervention, we are to move towards a more collaborative approach generally within the Fire and Rescue Services that can deliver some of the efficiencies that are possible.

The proceedings have been made available as an audio file and may be found here http://snd.sc/198yHIv