On 24 May Home Secretary Theresa May delivered a speech at the Reform think tank on the experience of police reform and the government’s intentions for reform of the fire and rescue service. To improve governance and enable closer working with the police service, the government is legislating through the Policing and Crime Bill to give police and crime commissioners (PCCs) the ability to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made.
A PCC may, if they wish, also bring together policing and fire and rescue services into one single employer organisation. In either case the PCC would be the new fire and rescue authority. There are a whole range of potential finance and governance implications, as well as operational implications, especially for the single-employer model, some of which we considered at our Police Network events in April and will be looking at in more detail at our conference on 7 July.
The proposals include an independent inspection regime for fire and rescue services to replace the current peer review system. Amendments in the Policing and Crime Bill will strengthen inspection powers to ensure fire inspectors can enter premises and access information and that government can commission inspections. But what are the implications?
Given the proposals in the Bill for police and crime commissioners to potentially create one organisation for police and fire services under one chief officer, a new, independent fire and rescue inspectorate would need to work very closely with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on inspections of the single-employer model organisations. Not easy, given the potential different inspection programmes and timetables over a whole range of policing, fire and rescue and support services.
Diversity and procurement proposals
In two of the proposals, local fire and rescue services are to be challenged via the publication of information to encourage reform. The first is to transform the diversity of a firefighter workforce by publishing diversity data to allow the public to assess how representative their local service is. Presumably this will be published by the local fire and rescue authority as part of their transparency requirements.
The second is to reduce comparative procurement costs for fire and rescue services in England by publishing what is spent on uniform, operational kit and vehicles, to encourage services to collaborate more on procurement. Where the picture may become more complicated is where they collaborate with the police service, or ambulance trust, or become part of one organisation with the police, which can require a specification to meet different needs in different areas.
Two of the above proposals for the reform of fire and rescue services are extensive and the other two very specific, but all will bring their challenges. CIPFA looks forward to working with fire and rescue services to help them through these challenges over the coming years.