UK fire sector reacts to HMICFRS 2023 report

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Overview of the HMICFRS 2023 Annual Report on Fire and Rescue Services

Published on 9 May 2024, the “State of Fire and Rescue: The Annual Assessment of Fire and Rescue Services in England 2023” marks His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services’ second report to the Secretary of State under section 28B of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.

This report assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of fire and rescue services across England, drawing on data and insights gathered from inspection reports issued between 20 January 2023 and 31 March 2024.

The annual report provides a comprehensive evaluation of fire and rescue services, offering insights into their current state, challenges, and areas of commendation.

By systematically analysing the inspection findings, the report aims to furnish an overall view of the sector’s performance, identifying both strengths and areas requiring attention.

This evaluation serves as a crucial tool for ongoing improvement, guiding both policy-making and operational strategies within fire and rescue services.

NFCC Response

NFCC Chair highlights challenges and advancements in fire and rescue services

Responding to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services’ (HMICFRS) latest report, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Chair, Mark Hardingham, emphasised the crucial role and dedication of fire and rescue services in ensuring public safety.

According to Hardingham, the HMICFRS report, titled ‘State of Fire and Rescue: Annual Assessment of Fire and Rescue Services in England 2023’, provides a well-deserved recognition of the dedication seen across the sector.

Hardingham said: “Our fire and rescue services undertake a crucial role in keeping communities safe – they do this across a variety of different fire service roles – often moving towards danger, whilst helping others to escape it.”

NFCC’s adaptation to changing community needs

The NFCC Chair also acknowledged the need for the fire and rescue sector to adapt to the changing needs of communities.

The report highlighted various challenges, including financial pressures, recruitment challenges, and the sustainability of the on-call duty system.

Hardingham underlined the importance of these adaptations in ensuring the safety and well-being of communities across England.

“We wholeheartedly agree that our sector must adapt to meet the changing needs of our communities,” Hardingham stated.

He also emphasised the positive progress in response to the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, showcasing the NFCC’s commitment to continual improvement.

Focus on organisational culture and leadership

Hardingham further highlighted that enhancing organisational culture within fire and rescue services remains a priority.

He pointed out that fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity is vital to maintaining public trust and ensuring the sector remains a safe and welcoming place for all.

“Our number one priority is improving organisational culture across fire and rescue services,” Hardingham noted.

He also mentioned the ongoing challenges with misconduct and the collective role in addressing these issues across the fire and rescue services.

Additionally, the NFCC supports the proposal for investment into a College of Fire and Rescue, which Hardingham believes will further benefit the sector and enhance the quality of service provided to communities.

FBU response

Following the publication of the State of Fire and Rescue report by His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), has voiced significant criticisms regarding its content and focus.

Wrack highlighted ongoing issues that he believes were inadequately addressed in the report.

“This report does not add much to the discussion over the future of the fire and rescue service and the issues it faces,” Wrack stated.

He pointed out the severe impact of budget cuts and workforce reductions: “Since 2010, we have lost 30% of central government funding, and one in five firefighter jobs have disappeared.

“Response times are worse than ever. The report has little to say about this.”

Urgent action needed on equality

Wrack also criticised the HMICFRS for its oversight regarding workplace discrimination within the fire and rescue services.

“It is right to note the urgent need for action on equalities. Yet there is little reflection on the inspectorate’s failure to spot serious instances of discrimination, harassment and bullying in a number of fire and rescue services,” he remarked.

The role of the FBU and collective bargaining

The FBU General Secretary affirmed the union’s influential role in promoting equality and addressing issues within the fire service.

“Andy Cooke is right to recognise the influence of the FBU. As the only democratic voice for the firefighting profession, we have played a leading role in fighting for equality in the fire service for decades,” Wrack explained.

He expressed disapproval of perceived attacks on the established collective bargaining system: “We reject any attack on collective bargaining.

“The National Joint Council already provides a highly successful framework for facilitating agreements on pay, conditions, the role of firefighters and progress on equalities.”

Wrack also noted the lack of engagement from HMICFRS with the FBU on these matters: “Mr Cooke fails to acknowledge this work.

“We have always offered to meet HMICFRS to discuss the role and function of collective bargaining. That offer has not been taken up.”

Concerns over proposed changes to fire service structure

Wrack strongly opposed suggestions for aligning fire services more closely with policing models and structural combinations.

“Instead, the report doggedly pushes an agenda which has little support in the fire and rescue service.

Pushing a policing model onto the service, or seeking to combine structures, undermines public trust,” he commented.

He further argued against proposals for operational independence for chief fire officers, viewing them as a threat to essential accountability mechanisms: “Operational independence for chief fire officers is a dangerous proposition, further undermining vital systems of accountability and democracy for our fire services.”

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