27 March 2014
The speech given by the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, at the recent LGA Fire Conference was much awaited, not least because the government’s formal response to the ‘Facing The Future’ report authored last year by Sir Ken Knight is still to be published.
The Minister noted that the direction of travel of our Fire and Rescue Services will be determined by much more than the words featured in a government document and, consistent with the coalition’s policy of any changes in fire safety being sector-led, he was clear that much-needed transformation of the Fire and Rescue delivery model would be in the hands of the Fire and Rescue Services and Authorities and related stakeholders.
Emphasising the fall in fire calls and fire deaths and injuries over the last ten years, he implored the FRSs to maintain fire prevention at the forefront of their activities and for this to be immune from the savings that all Services must continue to pursue, noting that the over 65s account for more than half of fire deaths. Fire prevention is, of course, at the heart of what our fire risk assessment members strive to achieve while our fire detection and alarm, fire extinguishing and fire-fighting members are there to identify and help to act upon those fires which inevitably do occur.
Transformation is to be supported by a £75 m fund available for innovative bids and this will assist in financing local collaboration between the fire, ambulance and police services, a process which is already evident in, for example, Hampshire, Merseyside and Lincolnshire. This is, by the Minister’s own admission, patchy at present but he sees the co-location of stations and services, co-responding and joined up service functionality as the future of public service delivery.
The Minister also referred to a number of initiatives including collaborative procurement, product standardisation and a more co-ordinated approach to equipment evaluation, all of which our FIRESA Council have been lobbying for over the last year or so. The rightful placement of these issues high on the agenda we might regard as tangible successes arising from the work that this Council has put in on behalf of our fire-fighting suppliers.
Already, we have seen DCLG commissioning PA Consulting to gather data on FRS procurement and this has led to a joint project between DCLG and CFOA to aggregate demand from the FRSs. With the FIA having signed a memorandum of Understanding with CFOA, we expect to make substantive progress on this as well as on product specifications [leading, we hope, to a greater degree of standardisation] and on a collaborative approach to equipment evaluation.
Returning to the FRS procurement data and the report that has been issued on that work, we have concerns that of the £127 m annual spend identified, this government believes that savings of at least £18 m are achievable based on the cost variations that they have documented. In our view, their analysis fails to take into account the variety of procurement pathways and the volume of equipment within each purchased lot and that, rather than squeezing suppliers already operating on low margins, it is through the collaborative procurement process itself within the FRSs that genuine savings may be realised.
The Minister said that ’Fire and Rescue in ten year’s time will be totally different from ten years ago’ and in that, he is surely right. What has been a fragmentary picture across our FRSs now has the real potential to become significantly more concerted and with a new direction of travel starting to emerge. The FIA will continue to play its part in this evolution that will affect not only the Fire and Rescue Services but the ‘blue light’ services as a whole.
Related article: Fire minister Brandon Lewis praises firefighters' work