In response to the criticisms made in the Statutory Inspection into Avon Fire Authority which was published today we will be taking positive steps to immediately address areas of concern.
The report was produced on behalf of the Home Office by Dr Craig Baker and we thank him for his work. He is a management consultant with many years’ experience and we appreciate the perspective he provides from outside of the fire and rescue sector.
There is no doubt this report makes difficult reading, particularly in relation to historic shortfalls in governance and management arrangements. Mistakes have been made in the past and they cannot be ignored which is why my focus is exploring the recommendations that have been made and taking practical steps to improve.
We are pleased the Inspector recognised the improvements made in the last few weeks. Like the Inspector we believe the key to success is drawing a line under the past and placing the focus on moving forward.
The vast majority of our frontline and support staff will feel as upset and frustrated by this report as the local people we serve. As the Chair of Avon Fire Authority for only a matter of weeks and an Independent Member since 2015, I share that deep frustration around some of the historic decisions taken at political and senior management levels.
We must accept and learn from the criticism and most importantly demonstrate through actions, not words, how we will improve. My role is to put in place arrangements that ensure the governance and management of this organisation matches the fantastic service our staff provide to the public.
It’s important to remember the criticism in the report is focused on a very small group of people in senior political and management roles. Avon Fire & Rescue Service employs more than 800 people who literally work 24 hours a day seven days a week to keep people safe. Despite reducing budgets and a shrinking workforce I am extremely proud of our staff and the frontline service they provide, which was in no way criticised in the report.
Those brave women and men who provide our frontline response are skilled to the highest level and have the very best equipment, so the public should continue to have the ultimate faith in them.
The biggest frustration to me is that in the past, when our budgets were not as squeezed as they are today, money was wasted. This is money that could have been better spent and I will ensure this won’t be allowed to happen again.
With reference to pension arrangements of senior officers, although the Authority operated within the terms of the nationally agreed schemes, I believe the actions fell someway short of public expectations. The terms of the scheme have changed since that time but I will ensure much greater scrutiny and control around the pay of senior staff.
Now is the time for the Members of Avon Fire Authority to work together and show the leadership which has been lacking in the past. We must all digest this report and agree on the steps that have to be taken to ensure improvement and the restoration of confidence.
In response to the report I have already started to work with the management team to produce an action plan which outlines the practical steps we will now take in response to the main areas of criticism. We will publish this plan at the earliest opportunity; and hope to release it later this week.
I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Minister for Policing and Fire, Nick Hurd MP, to discuss our future plans and we will also seek the support of outside bodies including the National Fire Chiefs Council, as we work to improve governance and senior management arrangements.