The Home Office has today (2 February) commissioned a full statutory inspection of Avon Fire and Rescue Authority – the first of its kind.
The inspection has been ordered by the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Brandon Lewis, in response to serious, wide-ranging allegations over the authority’s governance in relation to spending, contracts, complaints, discipline and culture. It follows the authority’s repeated refusal to commission its own independent investigation into the claims.
Brandon Lewis, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, said:
It is disappointing that Avon Fire and Rescue Authority chose to not commission a full independent investigation, to reassure the communities it serves that these allegations have been taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
The extent, seriousness and persistence of the allegations cannot be ignored, and it will now be for the lead inspector, Dr Craig Baker, and his team to determine whether or not they are true.
Dr Baker, an independent consultant with extensive public sector experience, has been instructed to consider issues including the authority’s:
- decisions and scrutiny in relation to employees’ salaries and expenses, and to spending on hospitality
- processes and practices for entering into contracts
- systems to ensure transparency, including its treatment of whistleblowers
- approach to taking action against any member or employee found not to have met the standards required of them
- decisions to ensure a culture of fear and bullying does not exist and that action is taken where it is discovered.
In June 2016, the Chairman of Avon Fire and Rescue Authority approached the Home Office requesting assistance with launching an inquiry into concerns raised by members of the authority. That request was subsequently withdrawn by the Chairman.
In August 2016 and again last October, the Home Office asked the authority to commission a full investigation, independent of the authority, into all the allegations. The Chair and Vice Chairs of the authority declined this, and the Home Office has therefore commissioned a statutory inspection.
A final report will be delivered to the Home Secretary setting out the inspector’s findings and any recommendations.
Dr Baker has advised public sector organisations for over 30 years in the UK and overseas and, in the private sector, has worked with the Boston Consulting Group and Ernst and Young. He has extensive experience of building, leading and shaping businesses. He previously worked at the Audit Commission and worked on the production of its 2005 report, ‘In the Line of Fire’, which considered value for money in the fire service.
Dr Baker said:
The allegations made against Avon Fire and Rescue Authority are serious and I will ensure that they are rigorously investigated so that the public can have trust in the authority.
The inspection is expected to take at least 3 months and will look at the governance of the authority including its duties of accountability and assurance under the Fire and Rescue National Framework.
We have also published terms of reference for the inspection.