UK Government announces fire reform plans in wake of Grenfell


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The UK government has unveiled ‘ambitious’ new plans for fire reform which it claims will strengthen the country’s fire and rescue services. The new regulations put the majority of the Grenfell Tower inquiry recommendation into law and ‘ensure people are safe in their homes and places of work’.

The Home Secretary visited Old Kent Road fire station alongside the Minister of State for Building Safety and Fire to announce the package which will build upon changes following the Grenfell Tower fire and findings from independent inspection reports.

At the centre of the White Paper are plans to deliver:

  • Increased public safety: by improving the professionalism of the fire and rescue service through modern workforce practices and potentially establishing a College of Fire and Rescue.
  • Improved accountability: through the proposals to transfer fire governance to a single elected individual, overseeing delivery by operationally independent Chief Fire Officers.
  • Better engagement with the public: through the 10-week consultation the government will listen to the views of the public and stakeholders, after which it will finalise its reform programme.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the white paper will be ‘transformative’ in how firefighters are trained and will enable fire and rescue services to build on their strengths and leadership, adding: “The Grenfell tragedy must never happen again and we are continuing to drive forward progress on putting the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations into law.”

Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: he was delighted to be introducing the comprehensive reform plan for fire and rescue services: “The Grenfell Inquiry and independent inspections show reform is needed and we are tackling issues head on with this White Paper. Fire professionals step up to protect and serve their communities and it is only right that they have the right tools to do their jobs effectively.”

The Home Secretary also announced the commencement of the Fire Safety Act, and the launch of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022. These legislative changes pave the way for meeting many of the remaining Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations and will deliver fire safety improvements in multi-occupied residential buildings such as ensuring that fire and rescue services have the information they need to plan their response to a fire in a high-rise building and imposing a minimum frequency for checks on all fire doors in mid and high-rise blocks of flats.

Fire Brigades Union responds

Central to the white paper is a review on pay and a move to operational independence of Chief Fire Officers. Responding to this, Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary called it ‘an attack on workers’ rights’, undermining collective bargaining and a proposal to remove frontline firefighters’ voices.

He said: “We cannot simply leave these vital matters up to the Westminster government and fire employers: frontline firefighters deserve a say. Collective bargaining is a well fought for mechanism by which frontline firefighters have a say on pay, terms and conditions. It is their basic democratic right.

“The narrative set out in the white paper on the fire service’s response to the pandemic is one firefighters will not recognise. Firefighters, through their union, negotiated a contract which kept them safe and allowed important work to protect the public to take place. Before this agreement, Covid positive firefighters were deployed to doorsteps – not something certain chief fire officers can be proud of.

“We’re proud of how the tripartite agreement was achieved through our long-standing arrangements, and attempts to belittle it are false and insulting.

“The vast bulk of this white paper does not relate directly to Grenfell recommendations. It is unclear why the government is trying to paint this picture. Instead of listening to frontline firefighters, the government appears to have listened only to the anti-union voice of the politically motivated, including outgoing fire inspector Tom Winsor, and fire bosses. We look forward to working with the government to address these proposals and making sure that frontline firefighters are heard.

“The union has never opposed clarifying the role of a firefighter and in some instances, expanding that role, and we have tried to have these discussions with ministers for over a decade. It is ministers who have failed to answer these questions. It is imperative that any changes are properly negotiated and discussed with frontline firefighters – it is their say that should matter most. 

“The proposals on governance suggests that we could see more Police Fire and Crime Commissioners. Throwing fire in with police means fire and rescue services do not receive enough scrutiny. Furthermore police and fire are very different functions and there is a vital need to maintain the neutrality of fire and rescue services in the public perception. If this breaks down it will make the work of fire and rescue services in communities far more difficult.”

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