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05-10-20

'Firing on all Cylinders': NFCC's Chair October blog

Firing on all Cylinders 

In my last blog I referred to the Covid crisis and times of uncertainty, two months further on and we remain in a time of uncertainty with the number of positive cases, hospital admissions and even Covid related fatalities increasing.  We have new national messages, hands-face-space, the rule of 6 and large parts of the United Kingdom under additional, and often different, local measures.  This causes concern, not only concern about the virus itself, but also the long-term impact on the economy and people’s general health and wellbeing.

One thing is certain, we need to continue to look out for each other and help wherever and whenever we can.  The Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) remains ready, willing and able to help where it can.  As we move into the winter months and the regular winter pressures that impact our ambulance and health colleagues, we must be under no illusion that we will be called upon to support them and our communities as we have done so brilliantly since March. 

The Tripartite agreement, between NFCC, the employers and the Fire Brigades Union is currently extended until the 29th October. NFCC fully supports further extension of the agreement and I will be working hard with the employers and union to have an agreement in place that sees us through to at least the spring and is nimble enough to support the myriad of asks that are coming from local lockdown restrictions.

Testing and Track & Trace have not been perfect, but have increased since the early months of the crisis and this brings its own dimension.  Increased levels of testing and more extensive track and trace may well result in increased fire and rescue absence due to increased numbers in self isolation.  It is something we are keeping a close eye on in the NFCC Covid Gold group, led by Phil Garrigan, as we balance the health and wellbeing of colleagues against the determination to serve our communities.

But, as we all know, dealing with the current public health challenges is not all that occupies our minds.  I chaired my 12th NFCC Chiefs Council on 30th September and it had the feel of an organisation that continues to mature and, with the help of recent increases in dedicated resources thanks to Home Office investment,  one that is starting to fire on all cylinders.  This will mean greater support to fire and rescue services to help us all improve and serve our communities even better.  But this moving into third and on to fourth gear then staying there, relies on a reasonable spending review outcome.  At the moment, following the cancellation of this year’s budget, there is speculation on whether there will be a 3-year spending review or another annual rollover.  Whatever happens, sustaining the investment in NFCC and dealing with reduced local council tax income and pension pressures are vital to support continued improvement.

The spending review was just one of the items in my update to the Chiefs’ Council.  I also covered the Integrated Review that is looking at resilience in the UK and includes suggestions for a greater role for the FRS and I updated on the current Police and Crime Commissioner review that may well have a knock on impact for FRS governance.  Building safety remains at the forefront with us now joining case conferences with Home Office, the LGA, local FRS and MHCLG to consider next steps for ACM clad buildings that are yet to start remediation, doing all we can to increase the pace. 

We have also launched the third edition of the Simultaneous Evacuation guide after extensive consultation with stakeholders, including a number of the resident action groups representing those who live in blocks with non-compliant cladding systems.

But going back to the bulk of the agenda, I felt pride in the range, depth and quality of the work that now sits under NFCC.  Much of this comes about from the hard work and dedication of our programme, committee and project leads, very ably supported by the NFCC Central Programme Office.  We covered a great variety of issues, from person centred safe and well visits to dealing with knife attacks involving multiple victims.  We had updates on our data strategy and our three-year rolling plan, which both flow from our overall strategy, staff fitness and wellbeing, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion improvement plan with guidance on equality of access to services, updates on four developing fire standards, the building risk review and linking control rooms through the multi-agency information transfer (MAIT) system provided a rich and engaged meeting.

There were a few things that struck me as we closed the meeting; I have already mentioned the dedication and hard work of many people and I thank them for that commitment.  But also the striking synergies and dependencies of our programmes and projects; data appears to underpin them all, but you can’t have products like meaningful integrated risk management plans without the right people and right systems, including real commitment to equality and diversity.  That is why the programme office is so important for co-ordinating a virtual organisation. But the CPO cannot do it alone and our support hub, protection unit, national resilience, procurement and leadership hubs must continue to link together, mindful of the dependencies and guided by our strategy and plan.

Collaboration and sharing are key to improvement, fire and rescue services are getting better and better at this, co-ordinated and supported through NFCC where appropriate.  Our recent work on joining up, sharing and leading, as necessary, on work resulting from the Grenfell inquiry phase one recommendations is another good example.  So, although we live in uncertain and sometimes difficult times we still strive to improve.  One other thought that has struck me, there is a real possibility that I may go the whole of my last year as Chair without another face to face meeting with Chief Fire Officers: strange times indeed.

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