With my previous blog piece being entitled ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, I gave some thought to continuing the theme of Blondie song titles but found myself floundering somewhat. The more striking the title, the harder it would be to write anything that would remotely fit the heading so that was ‘The Attack of the Giant Ants’, ‘A Shark in Jet’s Clothing’ and ‘Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room’ out while others appeared either too vague [‘I Know But I Don’t Know’] or overtly pessimistic [‘Seven Rooms of Gloom’].
And so as I write this, I have no idea what our Marketing Team are going to call this but if you have clicked on this blog, you will have seen it by now.
I joined the FIRESA Council Chairman Derek Gotts and Council Member Lesley Wardle for a meeting the other day with Peter Holland, ex-CFO of Lancashire FRS and now the English Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser. Peter has long been a staunch supporter of FIRESA and, in fact, played a pivotal role in its inception back in 2004 when the concept of a National Procurement Strategy for the FRSs was being proposed by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Back then, I was invited to join Peter who broke away from a CFOA meeting at Luton Rugby Club to suggest that a trade association be formed to represent fire and rescue suppliers and, as they say, the rest is history. And so as it happens is the National Procurement Strategy!
Our recent meeting was the first time we had met with Peter in a formal capacity since his succession to the CFRA post earlier this year, taking over of course from Sir Ken Knight whose final project was to produce the ‘Facing The Future’ report that is currently causing much cerebral activity among the Fire and Rescue community. With government considering their response to the discussion points raised in the report, Peter will naturally be strongly involved in that process.
He is presently embroiled in contingency planning for the possible Fire and Rescue Services strike which is being balloted by the FBU and with the result being known by the end of August. Should industrial action [that’s a strange phrase, surely it’s inaction!] go ahead, many expect a long and bitter battle and in London, 27 fire appliances have been removed from normal duty in preparation to be deployed in the event of strike action in September.
In the midst of government cuts that are having a devastating impact on our FRSs, it’s easy to forget that the FBU ballot is actually over changes to fire fighters’ pension rights as a result of the Public Services Pension Act. The union opposes the new scheme as they claim that it increases employees’ contributions and imposes a standard pension age of 60 which is unrealistic for the role and will lead to many fire fighters leaving the service without a pension.
Meanwhile, CFO of Devon and Somerset, Lee Howells, has been appointed also as part time CFRA for the Welsh government and the Chair of his Fire Authority has caused no little consternation by apparently saying that his additional commitment will involve ‘the odd phone call – it is not an onerous task’. With some Devon and Somerset councilors suggesting that they did not sanction a part-time position outside of their FRS and local fire fighters appealing the decision, this has created a controversy that has yet to play out fully.
As for FIRESA Council’s role in all of this, fortunately it doesn’t have one as we don’t involve ourselves in matters of employment conditions within the FRSs. The issue of government cuts is, however, of serious concern to us from both the perspective of service delivery and in representing suppliers to a market which has always been finite but which is now diminishing at some pace. Looking at it from the vantage point of the man or woman on the Clapham Omnibus, it is hard to see how services can be maintained when 1,500 frontline jobs were lost in the FRSs between 2011 and 2012 and further cuts are set to result in yet fewer fire fighters, fire station closures and fewer fire appliances. With response times already almost two minutes slower than a decade ago, the risk to life and property is set to increase and unravel the very positive trends that the entire fire safety community has worked so hard to achieve over recent years. Lest this sounds like some pro-FBU agitation, many of the loudest voices to be seen and heard on this issue are coming from the Chief Fire Officers themselves.
Finally for now, watchers of the BBC’s Springwatch may notice that in every series, presenter Chris Packham picks a particular band and slips in their song titles when speaking to camera. Worth checking out on YouTube and in the 2013 shows, he got 70 Clash songs in! He hasn’t attempted Blondie yet but all I will say is that following Sir Ken’s report, we might ask will anything happen? Surely one way or another, the Fire and Rescue Services will continue to evolve over time and the hardest part may be acceptance of the need for possibly radical change. Any questions, call me.
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