Fire Brigades will be told to cut costs as part of a major shake-up of the way they are run after Home Secretary Theresa May announced she was taking over responsibility for the service. The Home Secretary, who earlier pushed through controversial policing reforms, said she was “determined” to improve efficiency in fire and rescue services.
Mrs May said that Fire services have poor procurement, IT systems and buildings management, and indicated she plans to introduce an independent inspectorate as well as order routine performance data to be published. The Home Secretary, who pushed through controversial policing reforms, said she was “determined” to improve efficiency in fire and rescue services.
It comes as the government prepares to give police and crime commissioners (PCC’s) responsibilities for fire and rescue authorities where a case is made locally following a consultation earlier this year. All three emergency services will also be forced to look at ways to work together to improve efficiency, including through sharing administration systems to cut costs.
Mrs May said: “I look at the fire and rescue service and I see the need for many of the same reforms that I started in policing five years ago. Better local accountability, more transparency and a relentless focus on efficiency. So, while I continue to finish the job of reform in policing, I am also determined to properly kick start the job of reform in fire.”
The Home Secretary continued: “We’ve already set out its proposals to allow PCCs to take over fire and rescue authorities – this will provide direct, democratic accountability in fire as we now have in policing. We need to go further still though. I am struck by the fact the fire and rescue service doesn’t have an independent inspectorate and does not routinely publish data on performance. Local people need these things to hold their local public services to account. And from my experience fire has the same problems as policing in terms of poor procurement, ICT and management of buildings.”
Mrs May said “I’d like to bring the same collaborative approach we’re seeing in policing to fire services too. But, at the same time, I think fire and rescue services have things to teach the police too. The extraordinary success of fire-fighters preventative work has hugely reduce the number of fires and saved countless lives. I want to police to focus on prevention to achieve the same results in regard to crime.”
But the Fire Brigades Union has criticised the plans for police and crime commissioners to take over fire authorities. “Enabling PCCs to govern fire and rescue services will neither deliver economic, efficient or effective emergency services not optimise public safety,” the Union said in a pamphlet on its website. On the contrary, these proposals threaten to damage the well-earned trust of the public in firefighters, hamper innovation and will lead to the fragmentation of emergency services delivery across the UK.”
PCCs “do not bring any skills or exeprtise” to the service and some have an “unfortunate record for ill-judged interference in operational matters”, it added. Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, accused PCCs who supported the move of “empire-building”.