The key points of the speech were:
- Independent inspections
- Improve diversity within the workforce
- Great transparency towards the public
- National Joint Council (NJC) reform
- Involvement of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs)
- Increased use of On-Call firefighters
- More collaboration of blue light services to provide efficiencies
- Intolerance of the bullying culture
Overall the RFU welcomes the continuing theme of reform, most of which has already been highlighted within other publications including Sir Ken Knight’s report ‘Facing the Future‘ and the recent Police and Crime Bill.
We have been lobbying for an ‘Ofsted style’ inspection regime within the fire service for a number of years, while at the same time raising our concerns over the ‘cosy’ Peer Review system, that was neither independent nor robust, was at the instigation of the fire service who was being reviewed and who chose whether or not to publish the subsequent report. As the Home Secretary stated; “It was not so much marking your own homework as setting your own exam paper and resolving that you’ve passed – and it has to change.”
The Fire Service will be provided with its own version of the police.uk website which will provide greater transparency to the public on how their local fire service is performing. The government will also make provisions to be able to publish performance data to enable comparisons to be made with different services across the country.
We believe such transparency will provide added pressure to tackle the ongoing issues with the availability of Retained appliances, rather than the current response by some services who merely shrug their shoulders claiming it’s impossible to recruit Retained firefighters anymore.
The issue of diversity raises its head once again as services struggle to provide a true representation of the communities they serve, with the current statistics showing that 96% of the workforce is white and 95% male. Our view is that there is a connection between a diverse workforce and how recruitment is managed, without innovation within this area it will be very difficult to reach out to those who wouldn’t normally view a career in the fire service as an option.
The bullying culture also continues to cause a retention problem in some areas. While Essex FRS took the spotlight due to the outcome of their recent culture review, they are by no means an isolated case and much more needs to be done to eradicate such behaviour.
Reference was also made to the opportunities to increase the use of On-Call firefighters to improve flexibility and generate savings, both in rural and metropolitan areas. However, despite the ‘Facing the Future‘ report which highlighted the benefits of improved utilisation of the On-Call system three years ago, we see little appetite among services to move this proposal forward.
Chief Fire Officers were also advised that it is their responsibility to reform the NJC and more importantly that if the national body is seen as a barrier to reform, that they should withdraw and determine their terms and conditions locally. An option that has been available to local fire authorities for decades.
It is clear from this speech that Fire Services will be expected to reform, the status-quo is not an option, we have already witnessed change within the Police Forces in England and we believe the Home Secretary will be just as determined to see through reform within this emergency service.
As a modern, moderate organisation, the RFU welcomes these reforms and will play its part both nationally and locally to ensure reform is to the benefit of our members, who are the backbone of the Fire Service.
The Home Secretary’s full speech can be found here.