Transcript of the speech as delivered.
Thank you for inviting me here today to give the key note address at your Annual Conference and to have the opportunity to meet with a vital group within the fire sector - the suppliers. I have the honour of speaking to you at this relatively new headquarters belonging to the Fire Industry Association. I know that I can rely on this building to have excellent fire detection systems in place though let’s not put them to the test today.
All of you here today are very important contributors to what has been achieved in the fire and rescue service to date. I hope you will continue to be involved in taking forward new ideas and ways of working to ensure future successes.
I appreciate that this will not be an easy task since we are all facing tough choices around funding and prioritising resources.
It will be especially difficult for suppliers in a market where some purchasers may be tightening their budget in the next few years. It is essential that we try to maintain choice and innovation and that we continue to support small and medium sized enterprises where possible. This aim can only be achieved by working in partnership with the rest of the fire sector.
My theme for today is working through change. The challenges you face may be different depending on the size of your organisation and the products that you supply, from splinter shields through to the bigger fire appliances that are instantly recognizable to the public. However all of you here today will experience change if you have not already done so. How we work together going forward will help determine how we respond to such changes.
At my meeting with FIRESA officials on the 14 February 2011, Dave Russell and Gerry Styler gave the clear message on your behalf that there was a need for continuity and confidence going forward following the announcement on the closure of Firebuy.
This closure was announced (external link) on 14 October 2010 as part of the wider review of Arms Length Bodies across Government. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise that this decision was not a reflection on the work that Firebuy had done or the services it has offered. I would like to pay tribute to Firebuy who have been a professional and dedicated resource for national procurement, and have secured efficiency savings and framework contracts that are used not just by the fire and rescue service but also by organisations outside the sector.
However, this is not the type of function that needs to be undertaken by central Government. This does not mean going back to 46 Fire and Rescue Authorities buying their own bespoke equipment and requiring suppliers to undertake the tender process every single time. Those days are long gone since the need to prioritise funding and resources will encourage collaborative procurements which serve the operational needs of the service.
In closing Firebuy the key issue was for us to ensure a seamless and open transition to the new arrangements. We were keen to keep suppliers up to date on developments through FIRESA which we have done. From 14 October we put in place an intensive bidding process to take on the framework contracts that are the main part of Firebuy’s business. I know Gerry Styler attended the initial framework information open day on 15 October on behalf of FIRESA.
Several organisations expressed an interest in taking on these frameworks demonstrating that they were highly valued by the fire sector and beyond. Following a detailed competitive process The Consortium for Purchasing and Distribution Limited was selected as the preferred bidder subject to the due diligence process which is still ongoing. I know you have already head from Melanie Teal, the Chief Executive of The Consortium, who I was delighted to meet today.
I am aware that the actual contract novation process may be a logistical headache for many of you. We will help you through this process starting with an information session this afternoon where legal and procurement experts will be available to take questions and give you practical advice.
The aim is for Firebuy to cease business by the end of April. However we want to ensure that the novation is done correctly and if the process takes a little longer than this then we will continue to keep everyone informed.
Since the announcement of Firebuy’s closure we have encouraged purchasers to continue using the frameworks to allow for business continuity and to maintain the benefits of collaborative procurement. We want as seamless a transition to the new arrangements as possible.
The other functions that Firebuy undertake such as the management of the New Dimension contract will come into my Department from April 2011 pending further consideration of longer term arrangements with the Sector. The management of the Integrated Clothing Project, Technical Services and Enprotex will also transfer to DCLG from April 2011.
I know three of the Firebuy staff are here today, Terry Brewer, Graham Maltby and Elaine Hughes. I would like to express my personal appreciation to all the Firebuy team for their hard work and commitment in working towards the orderly closure of the organisation, and transfer of functions. I think we all recognise that this has not been an easy time for them. They continue to put their customers and suppliers first and show the professionalism that has been present since they began in 2006.
On 20 December 2010 I announced the closure of the FiReControl project. The consultation on the future of fire and rescue control services was issued on 13 January and closes on 8 April 2011. I hope you will all take the opportunity to feed into this.
There is an economic challenge ahead for all involved since we have to reduce the unprecedented public sector deficit. The Fire and Rescue Service has been given some protection in the recent Spending Review settlement, though to achieve the savings required there will be a need to increase efficiency and deliver reform.
Let’s not pretend that suppliers will not be impacted by the economic situation, but fire and rescue equipment will continue to be required and there may be new markets for your equipment and expertise. Challenging times of change provide us with the impetus to seek out new opportunities and be innovative in the way that we work.
At the recent meeting I had with Dave and Gerry they highlighted the need for suppliers to continue to develop International and European connections. Howard Gibbs from UKTI has spoken to you this morning and I hope has given you some useful tips and understanding.
My own Department is occasionally involved in meeting international delegations. Sir Ken Knight, the Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor, is instrumental in developing these relationships with the wider fire and rescue sector. We would be happy to consider any opportunities where the Department can offer support in exporting your products and expertise.
I understand that some of you have had concerns over tendering practices in some member states and that there is a level playing field for all concerned. I am not aware of any uncompetitive practices but if there is concrete evidence of this occurring then let us know.
Wider vision for Government
We are working with the fire sector to free them from unnecessary bureaucracy where possible, to build on their work in the community, and to create a new and stronger relationship of influence and accountability with citizens. As part of this I would like to touch on the Government’s wider regulatory policy.
In these difficult times, an important part of the Government’s strategy for financial growth is to support business by adopting a deregulatory policy. Regulation is therefore a last resort. This Government will not add to the regulatory burden unless it can be demonstrated to be the only option for delivering our policy objectives.
Even in these limited circumstances, the introduction of the ‘one-in-one-out’ rule means that before any new regulation is introduced, the costs must be fully justified through an impact assessment and an existing regulatory burden must be identified and removed so that the overall amount of regulation does not increase.
Rebuilding responsibility and giving people more control over their lives is the key message at the heart of the Big Society and the Localism Bill. These messages are relevant to you as suppliers as they are about transferring power away from Whitehall to people and communities creating the conditions which will allow individuals, communities and businesses the power to build successful neighbourhoods. I invite you to be part of this opportunity to influence decisions going forward.
Government will soon publish a White Paper setting out our approach to public service reform, putting in place principles that will signal the end of the top-down, overly bureaucratic model of public services and allow users to determine what is needed to deliver growth and success in their own community.
This is all part of resetting the traditional relationships between central government, local government, communities and individuals. As part of this new way of working some of you have been involved in the Fire Futures initiative.
This encouraged all those involved in the fire sector to review and challenge existing structures and policies, to consider what will be needed in the future and to suggest ways that we can get to there. I have been very impressed by the energy and commitment of the entire sector in rising to this challenge and driving it forward. I thank the efforts of all contributors including Dave Russell. This has taken time and commitment but it ensured that suppliers had a say in what was happening. I hope you enjoyed the experience and will continue to be involved.
We will be formally responding to the Fire Future reports shortly but as part of this, as I have said, we need to reset the relationship - what is already clear is that we in Government want to enable change and decentralisation; we don’t intend to impose or manage new ways of working from the centre.
My expectation is therefore that the majority of the ideas coming through Fire Futures are for the wider sector to take forward as it sees fit. The Fire Community Forum is an example of industry taking on board the key messages around decentralisation and getting on with it. This forum will consider knowledge management, the built environment and workforce development.
Fire Futures has shown that different bodies within the fire sector can work together towards a common aim. Let’s build on this collaborative work to help deliver the changes that are needed.
Thank you for inviting me here today to talk with you. I hope what I have said has helped give you a clearer understanding of all the work that is going on to give power back to communities, and to ensure that future decisions can be made by the people that they directly affect. It will be a challenge but you have already started this process and by working together in new ways I am confident that all of us in the fire sector can deliver this change.
I will be able to take a few questions at the end. If there is insufficient time to answer them today or if you think of issues subsequently then please let the FIRESA team or my officials know and we will get back to you.
Finally Dave and Gerry will be stepping down from their roles in 2012 and in the meantime they are working hard to handover to the new team during the next year. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that they have put in since they were appointed and would ask you all to show your appreciation for representing you so ably during a period of intense activity.