In a wide ranging speech to the Local Government Association, ‘The Future of Fire’ Conference Bob Neill said that the economic challenge was the backdrop against which all those in the public sector are working and that the unprecedented public sector deficit meant that all layers of government including the Fire and Rescue Service had difficult decisions to make.
Overall, single purpose Fire and Rescue Authorities will see a reduction in revenue spending power, taking into account grants from central government and council tax, of just 2.2% in 2011 to 2012 and 0.5% in 2012 to 2013. However these reductions have been back-loaded to give them time to make the necessary changes.
Bob Neill made clear that reductions in funding to Fire and Rescue Authorities have been less than those applied to local authorities in general and that while spending decisions will be decided locally by individual Fire and Rescue Authorities, he believed that these savings should be achievable without affecting the quality and breadth of frontline services, through modern working practices in areas such as flexible staffing and shared services. In addition, the government in recognising the need for fire and rescue authorities to maintain their investment in capital assets has increased capital grant funding from £45 million in 2010 to 2011 to £70 million in 2011 to 2012.
Bob Neill said:
“Challenging times of change provide us with the impetus to seek out new opportunities and be innovative in the way we deliver for our communities and neighbourhoods.
“I know fire professionals understand the role they have to play in helping to reduce the deficit, building a stronger and safer society, and sustainable Fire and Rescue Service.”
He stressed that in these challenging times, Fire and Rescue Authorities needed to maintain their community safety focus. Fire deaths in the home have halved since the 1980s and the government wants to build on these achievements with fire prevention and community safety remaining a priority. In recognising the value of properly maintained smoke alarms the government has been able to continue to run the Fire Kills campaign to underpin and support local Fire and Rescue Service initiatives.
The Fire Minister spoke of the Fire and Rescue Service being one that “we can be proud of” at the “heart of ensuring public safety”, and he paid tribute to the response the service has given to international catastrophes such as the recent devastating earthquake in New Zealand.
Mr Neill also outlined how Fire and Rescue Authorities were being freed from bureaucracy. He reiterated that the government was intent on de-centralisation and on driving the transfer of power away from Whitehall to people and communities, enabling those at the front line to help set the agenda and tell government what is important in delivering.