Fire Minister speaks at CFOA conference
Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Brandon Lewis, addresses audience at the 2016 Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) conference.
Thank you all, and particularly to Dave, for the warm welcome. Firstly, may I congratulate you, Dave, on your recent appointment to the presidency at a time of positive change for this organisation and for the service more broadly. There is a real opportunity for change and I do look forward to working with you all on this.
It is a great pleasure to be here today and I was honoured to be asked by the Prime Minister to be the new Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service - in doing so, regaining responsibility for what is at the forefront of the emergency services.
This is a service that I know well. I also recognise it is changing, and some would say not changing quickly enough. I am grateful for the efforts of everyone in this room who has played a role in any form in driving transformation and ensuring that the service is becoming more efficient and effective and more representative as well.
An example of this transformation can be seen from last month’s fire statistics monitor, which showed an 83% rise in medical co-responding incidents and that results in the proportion of non-fire incidents attended by the service being the highest they have ever been.
This is encouraging progress which I want to see continue. As I said last week at the Police Superintendents Association’s annual conference, better joint working can undoubtedly strengthen our emergency services, deliver significant savings to the taxpayer and (arguably more importantly from a frontline perspective) improve the service to the public.
But as the now Prime Minister said back in May, now is the time to deliver further fundamental reforms to the service in order to make it the best it can be. When I look back at where the service was in 2013, there has been progress made.
You should all be proud of the long term downward trend of fire incidents and fatalities over the last decade which recently reached historically low levels.
Buildings are safer, families and communities are more secure, fewer false alarms are wasting firefighters’ time and using profiling, you are focusing your prevention efforts on the most vulnerable such as the elderly and disabled, and that’s where the focus should be.
You have embraced prevention with strong engagement with home owners and businesses, not least during last week’s business safety week.
However, I acknowledge, as the latest annual statistics show, we cannot afford to think for one moment that the job is now done and this is why the work the College of Policing is doing is so important, such as the sharing of best practice and knowledge and getting back to that downward trend.
This autumn’s Fire Kills national advertising campaign provides an opportunity to drive prevention messages at both the national and local levels and to raise awareness among communities of the need to take fire safety seriously. The campaign – planned, developed and delivered in partnership with yourselves – allows us to deliver consistent, top line, fire safety messages locally through an integrated campaign coming together with what we do on the ground. This approach makes sense in both safety and efficiency terms and I urge you all to support the campaign and use its materials to widen its reach and enhance its impact.
Chief Fire Officers Association
Now I want to touch on the reform agenda. My role is clear: namely to deliver - in partnership with you - the radical and ambitious package of reforms the Prime Minister, as former Home Secretary, announced earlier this year.
CFOA - and in turn the National Fire Chiefs Council - must be at the heart of this agenda. I want this reform programme to be in your hands, owned by the service, for the service.
Alongside Dave and his presidential team, we have got to make sure that we harness your skills and expertise to shape what we are collectively trying to achieve, and I am encouraged to hear the significant and varied work that CFOA is already involved with in this area.
I want these reforms to be sector-led. The Home Office will play its full part, not least to legislate, where necessary creating the new inspectorate, supporting the development of the new standards body and driving greater transparency.
In policing we supported the creation of the National Police Chiefs Council. As you have heard, this single body brings together all the operationally independent and locally accountable chief constables and their chief officer teams to coordinate national operational policing and work closely with the College of Policing to develop national standards.
I am heartened by the steps being taken by CFOA to effectively replicate this model and I look forward to supporting and working with the new body from next April.
Pillar 1: efficiency and collaboration
Our reform agenda comprises of 3 distinct pillars: efficiency and collaboration, accountability and transparency, and workforce reform.
On the first, I have already touched upon the significant increase in co-responding with local health providers and in my travels over the last couple of months since taking up this post I have seen many examples of collaboration such as the emergency services hub in Poynton, Cheshire, which now has enabled professional boundaries to be broken through collaborative working. This will be enhanced further by the construction of a shared headquarters for police and fire with huge savings of over £1.5 million.
And in Norfolk, where the Fire and Rescue Service’s integrated risk management team has co-located with the Police’s Joint Performance and Analysis Department, enabling the daily interaction of tactical analysis and response options as well as the development of joint strategic plans. Clearly delivering efficiencies with better outcomes is in all our interests.
Joint working can only strengthen our emergency services, which is why the government is legislating and will legislate further to ensure greater collaboration by introducing a statutory duty to collaborate in the Policing and Crime Bill.
Where there are local or national barriers that prevent further co-responding or collaboration opportunities coming to fruition, I want you to let me know where you see opportunities and I will do all I can to unblock them for you.
Procurement is one area where the service must do better. Policing has shown that local services can deliver substantial savings by collectively buying the same equipment where operational requirements allow.
I published data last month which captured the price fire and rescue authorities last paid for a basket of 25 common items. This illustrated some stark examples of procurement that looks from the outside to be inefficient and uncoordinated. At the time of publication I intentionally did not name and shame particular authorities and I do not intend to do so now - the data is available to all, so you can draw your own conclusions. And during our conversations last night, when those in the industry were telling me how difficult it is to compare apples and pears, I have to say I am glad we are having those conversations, as those conversations are valuable.
However, in my view, it makes no sense for fire and rescue authorities to buy separately when there are both financial and operational benefits to buying together. For some items, the difference in cost across fire and rescue authorities is simply remarkable: over £28,000 variance in the price of staff vehicles, over £1,000 in the price paid for laptops, and twice as much for helmets. I’m sure you can think through whether helmets are worth twice as much as they are to someone next door.
I am not going to tell you what you can and can’t buy - that was unsuccessfully tried in the past. You are best placed to lead these vital commercial changes and I am looking for you to do so. Give your suppliers a hard time and buy smart and get the best deal. I may repeat the basket of goods exercise again. If I do, I expect the range of prices paid to narrow and the overall unit cost for these items to fall.
I am pleased that CFOA has already embraced this challenge and Ann Millington will outline a new strategic commercial approach later today which I hope will receive your full support. That approach, which involves the sector buying goods and services in a more standardised and joined up way, as well as engaging with industry with one voice, is a significant step forward in driving real cash savings.
You can also take a similar joined-up approach to how you evaluate products. I welcome the work you are doing with the Fire Service College and the Fire Industry Association to develop a research and development function which will evaluate equipment once and for one time, rather than by each local service, reducing duplication and facilitating the sharing of knowledge. My expectation is for all services to engage with this function going forward; I simply see no reason not to.
And as the previous Home Secretary announced, with you, we will develop a coherent and comprehensive set of professional standards.
The Home Office is working with Dave Curry and others to develop options for the establishment of a standards body to drive this sector improvement and I hope to announce further details before the end of the year. I am delighted to see Chief Constable Alex Marshall here as I believe a lot can be learnt from the police experience on this issue and obvious links can be made.
I want these new standards to cover a range of issues such as professionalisation, ethics, technology and the workforce for the benefit of those who work in the sector. The National Operational Guidance programme is a good example of how professional standards can be effectively used by the sector, standardising delivery leading to greater interoperability and more advanced collaboration again leading to better outcomes.
Pillar 2: accountability and transparency
Turning to the second pillar - accountability and transparency - the Policing and Crime Bill contains enabling provisions for police and crime commissioners to take on the functions of fire and rescue authorities where a strong local case is made.
Subject to the will of Parliament, the bill is expected to receive royal assent by the turn of the year and I am aware of police and crime commissioners who are already beginning work on their business cases. I know some have already had discussions with a number of you on this matter and I am grateful for your engagement to date and we should be looking when this could work for services and communities.
This is a key reform which will bring a direct democratic mandate to oversight of fire and rescue, in doing so providing greater accountability and strong leadership committed to keeping the public safe. And by overseeing both services, police and crime commissioners can ensure we all see the benefits of collaboration and ensure best practice is shared.
But, and Andy is right to confirm this, this is not a police takeover and the important distinction between operational policing and firefighting will be maintained.
We will preserve the distinct identity of the fire and rescue service and the police force and ensure that the public have clarity that they are electing someone to the role of both police and crime commissioner and fire and rescue authority. The government will be bringing forward an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill at tomorrow’s Lords Committee stage to change the name of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) who take on responsibility for fire and rescue to ‘Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner’ and change the name of the corresponding police and crime panel to ‘Police, Fire and Crime Panel’.
In addition to reform of accountability we also need to improve transparency of the service to allow members of the public - as well as the service themselves - to make informed judgements as to how their service is performing against a range of recognised measures.
Across government there is a commitment to open data and we are exploring what more we can publish. The publication of operational statistics next month will include more workforce diversity data sets, and the published ‘basket of goods’ procurement data is one measurement of value for money. Policing will shortly be publishing more integrity data and I believe fire and rescue should follow suit.
The previous Home Secretary also announced the creation of a rigorous independent inspection regime.
The Policing and Crime Bill has provisions to create an inspection framework for fire that is similar to the current framework for police forces, strengthening the inspection powers in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 to put beyond doubt the powers of fire inspectors to enter premises and access information, and to ensure the government has the power to commission inspections of particular issues or individual fire and rescue services.
Our working assumption is that a new inspectorate will be fully operational in April 2018, with 2017 to 2018 used to plan, pilot and develop standards that can be assessed against.
I am keen to ensure the sector’s views continue to shape both this new inspectorate and the formation of the standards body, so that the necessary reform and improvements are delivered.
I know many of you - while fully supportive of the need for an inspectorate - have concerns that inspection could result in significant additional burdens to your service. Rest assured that I am clear that any new inspectorate must be proportionate, balanced and risk based with additional burdens kept to a minimum. I thought Andy’s comments on peer review are right and are useful and can be run in parallel.
I must stress at the outset that I have not made any decision about who the new inspectorate will be but I have asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to develop a proposal with input from the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser and his team.
HMIC is not the only option I am considering, but as we foster closer working between policing and fire, including combined leadership where a police and crime commissioner assumes responsibility for fire locally, it makes sense to have a single inspectorate.
I understand CFOA and the LGA are considering the future role of peer review. While the government believes the current peer review process has its limitations, as I say I accept it can have a role alongside a new inspection assurance mechanism. I am keen to hear proposals from the LGA as planning develops on this but I appreciate this will depend on the shape of the new inspectorate.
Pillar 3: reform of the fire and rescue workforce
The final pillar covers our greatest resource, as Dave touched on, which is the workforce, which accounts for over 80% of service spend.
I have been told of a number of reasons why workforce reform is too difficult and I’ve experienced some of this myself a few years ago, such as the National Joint Council, the grey book or a lack of recruitment. But the solution lies in your hands and some services are already doing it. The National Joint Council and the grey book are creatures of the sector which the sector can reform if it has the will and commitment to do so.
And while we owe a debt of gratitude to those leaving the service, you are going to have a great opportunity to re-shape your workforce with one third of the current workforce retiring over the next 5 years, allowing you to meet a completely different risk and demand model. That really is an opportunity worth taking advantage of.
It is for you as sector leads to seize this opportunity to re-shape your service and build in the flexibility to develop and deploy resource in different ways as demand changes further in the future. But against all of this, we need to ensure there is no reduction in quality on the front line, with other reforms such as standards and inspection helping to drive higher performance wherever possible. These 3 things can come together as a triumvirate to push meaningful change.
I expect to see a greater use of on-call and I look forward to hearing the outputs of the Retained Duty System Working Group and the new models they are considering. During a recent visit to Buckinghamshire I saw the strong progress that had been made in implementing alternative duty systems and how staffing is more closely aligned to risk, as well as the introduction of 22 firefighter apprentices into the service providing a refreshed employment proposition. I am pleased to hear that learning is being shared with other services and I will watch this area with interest.
Much more must also be done to increase the diversity of your workforce so that it better reflects the communities you serve. A diverse workforce brings many benefits, generating different ways of thinking and challenges us to not accept to do what we do just because we do it but to contribute to greater productivity and employee satisfaction.
I know you and the LGA are committed to addressing this issue and are actively developing solutions, but you must also consider how the service can be as an attractive a proposition as possible to join and how you can retain and develop staff into the future. It is one thing attracting the right staff in the first place, keeping them is another matter entirely and how we create a working environment that makes people want to stay must be key.
And having carefully considered it, I will shortly publish the Adrian Thomas Review - a review, incidentally, I instigated when last in office.
I know that many of you have progressed workforce reform over the past 18 months and that’s a good thing. But, the review is a wide ranging piece of work which makes a number of recommendations across 5 broad themes: the working environment; documented conditions of service; industrial relations; retained duty system and management.
The majority of the review’s recommendations are for the service to deliver and have the potential to modernise and transform the workforce in the years ahead for the better. A few recommendations are addressed to government which we will carefully consider.
The review also sets a number of challenges to you, the professional leadership of the service, and challenges that I hope you will step up and address. These include expanding the talent pipeline, staff engagement, the service’s culture and staff engagement. I am keen to discuss these recommendations further with you and your teams once the report has been published.
Finally, we need to work closely in partnership to genuinely deliver reform of National Resilience.
The Fire and Rescue Service has world-leading National Resilience capabilities to respond to national level emergencies.
The recent transfer of assurance functions to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority as a lead authority has already improved its accountability and transparency, showing us pound for pound where our money is spent - something we did not have in the past.
We are looking at how we might build on this to deliver further reform, including working closely in partnership to deliver efficiency in existing capabilities, how we maintain and buy new equipment through the national maintenance contract, and what newer capabilities the service needs to support the multi-agency response to the changing and evolving threats the country faces.
In conclusion, Dave, you set me 3 challenges, all of which I would be delighted to accept: I want the National Fire Chiefs Council to be absolutely the heart of this agenda; I would be delighted to set you challenges around outcomes for us to work together to solve; and lastly, I want us to work in partnership to make a considerable difference to the performance of this proud service and one you should all be hugely proud of.
I make no apologies being upfront with friends and colleagues that we need to turbo-charge reform.
The transformation of this organisation into the National Fire Chiefs Council is one step on that journey, and I wish you every success.