HMICFRS annual report

FRSA response

The FRSA welcomes the publication of the first annual report compiled by HMICFRS following the completion of its inaugural round of Fire Service Inspections within England. The report, written by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, Sir Thomas Winsor, is the culmination of the first independent inspections carried out for well over a decade.

The contents of the document provide us with very few surprises notably due to the Association having raised our concerns to the appropriate authorities in the preceding years. The report recognises the good practice that is being undertaken by local FRSs but more importantly has uncovered issues of extremely poor practice, it is therefore encouraging that the Inspectorate has taken a similar view to ours which bolsters our argument that reform of the Fire sector is long overdue.

The report rightly highlights and comments on the selfless and professional work undertaken by firefighters across the country and the positive public service provided by these emergency workers cannot be overstated. But the sector as a whole has some worrying themes: some services not doing enough in relation to building safety; imposing barriers to becoming more effective and efficient; a notable lack of diversity; and, in a few services, a toxic, bullying culture.

The Association is fully aware of the bullying culture in some services as we have had to deal with the fallout from this unacceptable behaviour against our members. Such treatment can tear stations and families apart and cause long lasting poor mental health for firefighters. Unfortunately in our view, such behaviour is often condoned by management with a blind-eye being turned, a number of senior officers have admitted in private that such behaviour exists but little if anything meaningful is actually done to overcome the ongoing problem.

The report also acknowledged past reports such as the Knight review (2013) which questioned whether firefighters’ conditions of service could act as a barrier to change what might otherwise result in a more effective and efficient service; the Adrian Thomas report (2015), commissioned by the then government which  made a series of recommendations, very few have been implemented, the Hackett report (building regulations and fire safety) and Lord Kerslake’s review of the response to the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. The common theme among these reports and their recommendations is that very little is acted upon, in particular, to reform firefighters’ working terms and conditions.

Sir Thomas also makes his observations regarding the On-Call system nothing of which you won’t have read in local and national reviews into the Retained Duty System (RDS), and the need for action, change and greater flexibility.

Overall the tone of the report is balanced and a true reflection of where the Fire sector currently finds itself, which is in dire need of modernisation. The report also contains four recommendations which are listed below.

Naturally the Association we will be making comment back to the Inspectorate including our view on how the sector needs to respond to the report (and with great urgency). It is clear that there has been a lack of focus, strategy and leadership given by this and previous governments allowing apathy, inconsistency and a lack of responsibility to be prevalent within services. This has got to change and we will be making this clear when we meet with the Fire Minister in the coming weeks.

HMICFRS Recommendations

  1. By June 2020, the Home Office, in consultation with the fire and rescue sector, should review and with precision determine the roles of: (a) fire and rescue services; and (b) those who work in them.
  2. By June 2020, the Home Office, the Local Government Association, the National Fire Chiefs Council and trade unions should consider whether the current pay negotiation machinery requires fundamental reform. If so, this should include
    the need for an independent pay review body and the future of the ‘grey book’.
  3. By September 2020, the Home Office should consider the case for legislating to give chief fire officers operational independence. In the meantime, it should issue clear guidance, possibly through an amendment to the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, on the demarcation between those responsible for governance and operational decision making by the chief fire officer.
  4. By December 2020, the National Fire Chiefs Council, with the Local Government Association, should produce a code of ethics for fire and rescue services. The code should be adopted by every service in England and considered as part of each employee’s progression and annual performance appraisal.

The full report can be found here.