19th April 2011
Results of the Fire Futures consultation
Last week, the government published their response to the Fire Futures consultation, listing a withdrawal on setting standards for fire-fighters, greater accountability to local communities on the part of fire and rescue services, abolition of national targets and increased clarity concerning national and local roles.
Although the government is not dictating the means by which these goals should be implemented, their response suggests that decisions on local service delivery should be made in the relevant locality rather than at central government level. Fire and rescue services are accountable to local people rather than to central government and must have local responsibility for decisions and performance. Furthermore, the next statutory National Framework, which is due in 2012, will make clear both national and local roles in resilience arrangements.
Responding to the four Fire Futures reports that were delivered to ministers towards the end of the previous year, the current government states that the previous Labour administration’s centralisation of management, coupled with its agenda to regionalise the fire and rescue service, has resulted in confusion rather than clarity in central and local roles. This in turn has distracted the service from a focus on the local community.
The government has not adopted many of the recommendations made by the Fire Futures reports, but it has placed the majority of the proposals in an ‘ideas bank’ for individual fire and rescue services to cherrypick from, based on the perceived needs of their local communities. This underlines the government’s resolve to reduce its previous involvement in the service’s future direction.
However, in the case of future funding mechanisms, decisions will be made in reference to the review of local government finances, which will be phased in from July of this year.
The coalition government’s response to the consultation also states that they will no longer be so closely involved in planning and implementing training programmes for fire-fighters and for setting standards for safety. These responsibilities will devolve to the fire and rescue service, either collectively or individually in response to the needs of local communities. The government will involve itself, however, by providing support with regard to the processes of monitoring.
Fire minister Bob Neil says that at the heart of the government’s approach is a commitment to bringing to a close the existing top-down Whitehall management of the fire and rescue services, and also bringing back a focus on local communities and local accountability, rather than a requirement for fire-fighters to reach targets set by central government. He adds that “the ‘ideas bank’ offers the sector the freedom to determine whether these ideas fit local needs without micro-management by the government.”
He goes on to say that it is the government’s intention to work with the fire and rescue sector to develop a new National Framework, and to rejuvenate the existing relationship between central government and the fire and rescue services, enabling fire and rescue authorities to circumvent unnecessary or irrelevant restrictions that currently hamper their ability to provide an effective service to local communities.
By Michelle Pearson