The Home Secretary today unveiled a programme of reform for fire and rescue services that promises to be as radical and ambitious as that delivered in policing since 2010.
Speaking at an event hosted by Reform, Theresa May praised the achievements of fire and rescue services, whose fire prevention work has contributed to a fall in the number of fires in England of two-thirds in the last 15 years, while the number of fire deaths has almost halved during the same period.
The Home Secretary paid tribute to firefighters deep understanding of the needs and risks of the communities they serve and the wide-ranging role the fire and rescue service now plays in keeping people safe from harm.
She also outlined the scale of the challenge still facing fire and rescue services and underlined the need for reform. A total of 263 people lost their lives to fire in England last year and 7,500 more were injured, with some of the most vulnerable groups in our society disproportionately represented among the victims, including older people, those living alone and people whose behaviours, lifestyle or housing places them at greater risk. Meanwhile, the insurance industry estimates that the annual cost which fire places on businesses runs to hundreds of millions of pounds, and experience shows that many firms never recover.
Theresa May said:
Over the course of this Parliament I intend to deliver a programme of reform in the fire and rescue service that is as radical and ambitious as I have delivered in policing since 2010. The reforms I have set out today will make fire and rescue more accountable, more effective and more professional than ever before. They will build on great strides in prevention and collaboration that fire and rescue services have already made.
But when I look at the fire and rescue service I see a service that has succeeded in spite of the framework it operates in, not because of it. 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. And a service that requires further reform to improve accountability, bring independent scrutiny and drive transparency.
In the last 10 years, the overall size of the fire workforce has not changed significantly despite the number of incidents attended falling by 42%. The challenge facing senior fire officers is therefore how to reform the workforce to meet a completely different risk and demand model.
The Home Secretary emphasised the potential to deliver efficiencies and savings which will not only save taxpayers money but also improve the working lives of fire service employees.
She announced that the reform programme will focus on areas including:
- introducing a rigorous and independent inspection regime of fire and rescue services to replace the current peer review system
- challenging services to transform the diversity of a firefighter workforce that is currently 96% white and 95% male (diversity data will be published to allow the public to gauge how representative their local service currently is)
- publishing comparative procurement data from every fire and rescue authority in England to show how much each pays for common items like uniform, operational kit and vehicles to encourage services to pool their purchasing power and buy collectively
- legislating to give Police and Crime Commissioners the ability to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made to bring greater accountability to the work of local fire and rescue services
The Home Secretary added:
I am not going to pretend that reform in fire and rescue will be easy or straightforward. Meaningful and lasting reform never is. But with fire and rescue in the Home Office and with a real appetite for change, I believe now is the time to deliver the change that is needed.