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17-03-21

NFCC responds to The Government's PCC Review

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has today responded to the first part of the Government’s review into the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).

The written ministerial statement made a number of recommendations for PCCs and police. It also referenced ‘support for the Government’s ambition to strengthen the accountability of Fire and Rescue Services (FRS).’

This will result in a public consultation on whether to mandate the transfer of Fire and Rescue Authority functions to PCCs in England. It will form part of a 2021 Government Fire Reform White Paper.

NFCC strongly recognises the need for broad sector reform, supported by good governance and finance in place to ensure the FRS is fit for the future. Key incidents and events such as the current pandemic, climate change, the Grenfell Tower and Manchester Arena tragedies have all identified areas of learning for the FRS, which will feed into wider reform. They also demonstrate that the FRS is able to add value to our communities beyond what is considered to be the traditional and core FRS role.  

It is imperative CFOs roles are safeguarded and have the same standing as a Chief Constable

Roy Wilsher

The review references legislating to create operational independence for Chief Fire Officers (CFOs) and to clearly separate and delineate strategic and operational planning for fire and rescue, including separate budgets. It also references providing a ‘brighter-line’ on the boundaries of operational independence for police via potential changes to the Policing Protocol Order 2011, and this learning will be important for the FRS and CFOs in informing potential future changes. 

NFCC has consistently stated if fire services are governed by a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC), and four already are, it is imperative CFOs roles are safeguarded and have the same standing as a Chief Constable. Currently, Chief Constables are corporations sole, act as the employer and have operational independence. The same operational positioning for CFOs is vital, together with the status of the wider FRS alongside police forces.

FRSs are driven by risk and risk factors and are not as demand-led as police forces. There are a number of key operational, organisational and cultural differences between the two services, requiring different approaches, functions and political understanding.

Responding to the review, NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher – who also sat on the panel for the review – said: “It is pleasing to see the focus on the wide-range of roles the FRS undertakes highlighted in today’s statement. This comes as no surprise to me; we only need to look back over the last 12 months to see the response to the pandemic and how fire services adapted to the frequent challenges that emerged. Yet it does show there are areas which do need reform to ensure the public continue to receive the outstanding response they expect.

“The role of the FRS is to serve communities, putting them first, while reducing risk and saving lives. We must not lose sight of this; although the reforms indicated will be a major undertaking and need to be resourced appropriately and carried out in a joined-up, consistent manner that reflects the UK-wide provision of the FRS.

“However, there must be greater clarity in both professional and political leadership. With appropriate political oversight, CFOs are best placed to deliver the operational running of services, based on risk, using strong data and evidence.

“There must be a democratic mandate, good governance, accountability and robust political decision-making in place, with CFOs delivering risk-based services to their communities.”

The report states: “The Government is clear that further reform of fire and rescue is required in order to respond to the recommendations from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Kerslake Review and to build on the findings from Sir Thomas Winsor’s State of Fire and Rescue Reports. Our reform agenda will focus on three key areas: people; professionalism; and governance.”

Mr Wilsher made it clear that it is not for NFCC to recommend which fire authority model should be in place. NFCC’s role is to provide professional and technical advice and has a critical role to play in shaping the delivery of reform, with partner organisations.

“There must be clear lines of responsibility and governance that is consistent, and based on national guidance and standards. Fire authorities will set strategic direction and budgets, but these must be data and evidence-based with a clear and defined role for CFOs.”

The two-part Government review was announced in the summer of 2020. Its aim was to look at the role of PFCCs, how the public can hold them to account for performance, increasing accountability and improving transparency.

The review collated views and evidence from stakeholders across policing, fire and local government, voluntary and community organisations. Findings related to fire included:

  • Consult on whether to mandate the transfer of fire and rescue functions to the PFCC model across England where boundaries are coterminous, unless there is an option to transfer fire governance directly to an elected Mayor.
  • Legislating to create operational independence for CFOs and to clearly separate and delineate strategic and operational planning for fire and rescue.
  • Considering options to clarify the legal entities within the PFCC model.

 

 

 

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