Chair's Blog

10-08-20

NFCC Chair reflects on the past few months - while looking to the future

Our Chair Roy WIlsher has written his latest blog post, reflecting on the past few months while looking to the future. Here, he highlights a range of areas NFCC is working on and how we are placed to meet future challenges. 

 

Reflections

Maybe it’s the working from home for almost six months since we first started cancelling face-to-face meetings in the face of the Covid pandemic, but I have found myself in a somewhat reflective mood recently.

Although national lockdown restrictions have eased, we are still in a time of uncertainty, where infections and local restrictions show a slight increase but thankfully, at the moment, hospital admissions and Covid-related fatalities still seem to be dropping. As we try to balance infection control against further damage to the economy, we all need to remember the basic rules of hand hygiene and social distancing outside our family bubble to help fight the disease. 

One thing that is clear during these times is the Fire and Rescue Service continues to step up. The Tripartite agreement has been extended to 30 September, the number of Covid-related activities by fire and rescue services’ numbers almost 400,000, fire and rescue service absence remains remarkably low with overall absence at 3.6% and Covid-related absence at just 1.5%.  I will reiterate what I have said before: this is remarkable and my thanks to everyone in fire and rescue for all their efforts.

The economic impact of the pandemic is not yet fully known, but it is fair to say that many of us will be surprised if the aftermath doesn’t bring some kind of fiscal constraint.  It is likely to be difficult.  Last year was the first time in over a decade when the spending round didn’t mean some kind of reduction for fire and rescue services. 

I spent many hours talking through the budget financial figures with government colleagues, ably supported by John Buckley and the Finance Committee, subsequently we actually saw investment in fire and rescue services in England.  Fire Protection has seen investment of £16 million, another £7m has gone to support implementation of the Grenfell inquiry recommendations and £4m has been invested directly in to the NFCC Protection Hub.

I chair the Protection Board that has pushed and overseen this investment.  Of course, this is one-off funding and we are working hard to have this baselined through the imminent spending review.  Our input into spending reviews up to now have always been best endeavours, but this time I worked with the Fire Services Management Committee to agree support for a dedicated resource to be placed within the Home Office to support our bid.

Developed through the Finance Committee, we agreed funding from each fire and rescue authority which saw Amy Webb seconded to NFCC and embedded in the Home Office to help make sure our bid is better formed than ever before.  Further work on our Digital and Data programme over the next few years will help produce the data we need to make our bid even stronger in future, but we are in the best place we can be this time around.

I think we are currently well placed to meet those challenges.

Roy Wilsher

Much of that investment is focussed on building safety and the need for us to help fix the broken building safety system highlighted in the Dame Judith Hackitt review.  Through my work with the Expert Panel and links into MHCLG, NFCC was able to secure places on all six of the Hackitt review workstreams.  This has put NFCC in a strong position to support fire and rescue services going forward. 

The investment in Protection in FRSs will assist but so will the £4m invested in the NFCC Protection Hub which will see the Building Safety Team joined by other colleagues to support the work of the Protection Board, the Building Risk Review, support fire and rescue services and develop guidance equivalent to National Operational Guidance for Protection.

One of the unintended consequences of the building safety failure and the fact that 160 ACM clad buildings still need to be remediated is the financial and psychological affect on leaseholders.  We are trying to support them, and we are redrafting the simultaneous evacuation (Waking Watch) guidance to be more supportive of leaseholders.  I, along with Dan Daly and Nick Coombe, held a virtual meeting with cladding leaseholder action groups from across the country to listen to their concerns and views, but also to explain the thinking behind the guidance when it was first developed in 2017.

One thing we did not considered back then is that these interim measures would be needed years later.  I wanted the meeting with the residents arranged to give them a voice and it proved extremely beneficial for the redrafting of the guide.

But that is not the total of the investment secured for NFCC this year.  I chaired the National Operational Guidance Programme from its inception in 2011 and as I led the transition from CFOA to NFCC I knew we would need solid programme management.  Hence my suggestion that we transform NOG into the NFCC Central Programme Office. 

This has been reasonably successful as we can see from the maintenance of NOG, the development of National Operational Learning and the launch of our main programmes; Community Risk, People and Digital & Data.  But, as last year’s NFCC budget process showed there is always more that can be done, but this needs finance to progress.

I helped secure £1.5m a year that goes to the CPO to support fire standards work but this year we have also secured an extra £3m of Home Office investment to boost the work of the CPO and provide implementation support to fire and rescue services. 

The investment will also support the introduction of a Prevention Programme, a commercial hub, leadership work within the people programme and, working with the LGA, refine and develop ‘Fit for the Future’, a road map for continued improvement of the fire and rescue service. Whilst business as usual work continues, a good example is the review of the JESIP doctrine, another national initiative I have been involved in since inception, chairing the board since before the London Olympics.

It has been some period since I took over as Chair and I have not even covered the terrorist attacks, national wildfires and flooding, the introduction of HMICFRS, Police and Crime Commissioners and the different Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Directors-General and Directors that has needed NFCC to be a steady organisation in turbulent times.

It doesn’t feel like the next few years will be any different, economic impact, pay claims, pension remediation, a probable new framework for England, New Dimensions 2 project, Covid, EU exit and the enactment of the Building and Fire Safety Bills. 

Fortunately, I still sit on the Expert Panel, I am a member of the English Minister’s Fire and Building Safety Reform Board and I am a member of the PCC review advisory board.  We have the financial investment that has moved us from an organisation turning over less than £1 million in 2017 to a £10.5m organisation in 2020.

NFCC will have more full-time staff as a result, plus the dedication and commitment of our programme executives, steering group, committee chairs and workstream leads.  This will enable us to do even more good work and I think we are currently well placed to meet those challenges.

Back to news