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25 May 2016
Home Secretary Theresa May has revealed radical new plans for the fire service in the first indication of the direction of the fire service since the Home Office assumed responsibility earlier this year.
In a speech to the Reform thinktank in London, she confirmed her intention to allow elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to take over fire and rescue services, where a local case to do so is made, and to introduce an independent inspection regime, which she said was currently impossible.
She also criticised fire and rescue services for being 96% white, 95% male and allowing a “culture of bullying and harassment” in some parts of England and Wales.
Mrs May said the fire service had a "fine tradition and a proud record" but "there remains much more to do".
She said: “A fire and rescue landscape still beset by poor governance and structures. A workforce lacking diversity and still bound by many of the old ways of working. A service that requires further reform to improve accountability, bring independent scrutiny and drive transparency.”
The Home Secretary announced she will publish data to show how much each fire and rescue authority is paying for items including uniform, kit, and vehicles to "help services work together to buy equipment and services".
Information will also be published to allow members of the public to compare their performance and value for money and diversity.
She added that she will make amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill to "put beyond doubt" the powers of fire inspectors to access information, and to ensure the government has the power to commission inspections.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, reacted to the speech saying: “The home secretary may be surprised that we agree with her on some of the issues she raised. We have been calling for an independent inspectorate for some time, as the current system had led to huge imbalances on the standards imposed on services across the county.
“We support any move that will mean all fire and rescue services are inspected, validated and held accountable in a standardised fashion.
“We are all, however, surprised about the claims that the home secretary has made about the size of the fire and rescue workforce not having changed in the past decade.
“The record cuts that this government have imposed on the fire and rescue services have resulted in far fewer frontline firefighters and is contributing to a poorer and less reliable public service.
“Whilst we want to work with the home secretary for a greater diversity in our fire and rescue service, it needs to be pointed out that it was her government who in 2010 chose to remove the diversity targets that were in place, sending a clear signal to employers that diversity was of being downgraded,” Wrack added.