Calculating the cost of fire: Service unites to show its worth
FIRE reports from last month’s LGA Fire Conference in Brighton where speakers and delegates were united in appealing for government to recognise the added value provided by the Fire and Rescue Service in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review
This year’s LGA Fire Conference took place on March 12-13 in Brighton and covered a range of pressing issues including keynote sessions on the added value of the Fire and Rescue Service; Culture, diversity and inclusion; Finance, risk and capacity; and Building safety – beyond the Hackitt Review. Promoting the added value of the Fire and Rescue Service to government was a clear priority at conference and headlined proceedings.
Fire Brigades Union Perspective
Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack provided the keynote opening address and began by recognising the “outstanding contribution operational firefighters, emergency control staff and support staff make to our communities”.
Prior to addressing the wider, developing role Mr Wrack said that it has become commonplace to overlook the traditional role and “the tremendous job firefighters do when they intervene at fires. There has undoubtedly been great progress in reducing the number of fires across the UK. Those improvements are partly due to firefighters’ prevention work, supporting vulnerable people and managing risks through promoting fire safety.
“However, there are still thousands of fires and far too many casualties at fires for anyone to be complacent. Last year firefighters attended more than 200,000 fires across the UK. That is around 600 fires every day of the year. Almost half of those were classified as primary fires. Around 40,000 of those fires were in people’s homes. Tens of thousands of fires took place in workplaces and businesses across the UK. For every one of those people affected, the intervention of the Fire and Rescue Service was necessary. In market-speak, firefighters ‘added value’.”
Although government no longer publish figures for fire rescues any more, he said the union does, reporting that almost 4,000 people were rescued from fires by firefighters over the last year, “a figure that has remained remarkably consistent over many years. This is something for governments and local employers to recognise. This activity has ‘value’ in its own right.”
“Clearly, even within the language of the market, broadening the role of firefighters would undoubtedly ‘add value’ to society and to our communities”
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack
Moving onto the wider role, Mr Wrack said firefighters attended more than 700,000 incidents last year – covering everything from road traffic collisions to floods. It is a figure that has remained constant over the last five or six years, he told delegates. Further, he reported that latest figures show that more than 45,000 people were rescued by firefighters in the UK between April 2017 and March 2018. “This equates to more than 100 rescues every day,” he emphasised. “That is a tremendous contribution that deserves to be recognised by politicians.”
In broadening the role, Mr Wrack said that the FBU has engaged in constructive negotiations with the National Joint Council and organised a number of trials for emergency medical response in 38 fire and rescue services over a two year period. The NJC commissioned two reports evaluating the projects: The Broadening Responsibilities report by the University of Hertfordshire and The Financial and Economic Modelling report by New Economy.
“The research suggested that firefighters could save 700 people a year who suffer a cardiac arrest. In financial terms, for every £1 invested in firefighters attending cardiac arrests, some £4 would be saved by the NHS and other agencies.
“Clearly, even within the language of the market, broadening the role of firefighters would undoubtedly ‘add value’ to society and to our communities.”
However, the trials “were not a complete success” he reported. “Many of our members who took part found that they were asked to do far too much – and in some cases tasks that should never have been proposed. There were not the necessary measures in place to protect firefighters’ mental and physical health – for example with inoculations.”
Mr Wrack did say that the trials showed the need for “UK-wide professional standards if this work is to be carried out”, but more than that a clear commitment from central government to fund the wider work. “Funding is needed to train and equip firefighters to do additional work. Similarly, we have had no undertaking from central government to pay firefighters for this additional work. Firefighters have been expanding the role since 2004, but this has not been matched by increased pay. Worse, we know that we’ve lost at least 17 per cent in real terms during the Westminster government’s pay cap.
“Firefighters have already been doing more because we’ve lost one-in-five frontline jobs since 2010. Firefighters rightly want to know they will receive a decent pay rise if they agree to broaden their role. This is important to many of you as employers – you know you do not have capacity alone to fund pay rises.”
Concluding, Mr Wrack said it is perfectly reasonable for firefighters and the union to seek to secure these matters in an agreement “before ploughing on”.
“‘A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ is an old slogan,” he told delegates. “It is also a reasonable stance. Firefighters should see the benefits of ‘added value’. That’s what the Fire Brigades Union hopes to achieve. We hope you will get behind the NJC and lobby the Westminster government to that effect.”
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said that firefighters are clearly adding value to the community and should see the benefits of that
Cllr Nick Chard, Deputy Chair, LGA Fire Services Management Committee (FSMC), told delegates that they were on a journey of change and the public expect to see that change. Pointing to the Policing and Crime Act 2018 and the focus on collaboration, he said the LGA’s 2024 Fire Vision showed the willingness to evolve, whilst the National Framework further emphasised the need to evolve beyond fire.
“There are few open fires, chimney fires; fewer people are smoking; there are safer fabrics and a key driver has been the prevention work. Primary fires are down; false alarms are down by 30 per cent.”
Integrated risk management plans now determine the resources required through a risk-led approach, but Cllr Chard said that more resources are needed for local and national resilience. “There has been a big change in society and our communities,” he said “and the National Framework expects fire and rescue services to develop risk reduction processes.”
Fire Service Strengths
Cllr Chard reported that the Fire and Rescue Service is the most trusted blue-light service able to “go places others can’t”. He pointed to a “can do” attitude, “a reliable and professional partner that delivers.” However, he stressed the need to nurture the skills of staff to adapt to meet the needs of an evolving society.
Cllr Chard emphasised the changes in demography, with old age and dementia as well as the challenges presented by safeguarding accounting for a great deal of activity. “It is a complex and diverse society and is why we need a more diverse workforce – because they understand and have empathy with different communities. It makes good business sense and is for the benefit of our communities – a diverse workforce helps reach the ‘difficult to reach’ groups. Local knowledge is key, down to the granular level, to understand what makes communities tick. We need to be the trusted eyes of our communities.”
There are opportunities though, Cllr Chard suggested, through demand-led services with enormous pressures on police and health: “We can become the partner of choice. Having a savvy workforce which understands what’s going on with skill sets that add value.”
In terms of that added value, Cllr Chard said that University of Hertfordshire and New Economy reports on emergency responders was a “good first effort” but does not show the whole picture. He highlighted the work of the Margate Task Force in his own area of Kent – a collaborative initiative to tackle deprivation, which he stated, is as a recurring theme across other services.
Looking to the future he said that residents do not have a choice about response, but should be treated as if they do. “We should look through the other end of the telescope at what they want us to do. Why wouldn’t we look at dementia, domestic abuse and all safeguarding issues? Why wouldn’t we seek to improve life for our residents? We need to work with others to make a difference.”
Finance, Risk and Capacity
DCFO Phil Hales, West Midlands Fire Service and National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) lead on Finance, outlined the work of the NFCC in working with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the funding formula “ensuring it is right and works in the future”. He reported on undertaking work around sector surveys and data. “The challenge,” he emphasised, “is for us as a sector is to get it right.”
The Home Office has prepared a number of submissions to Treasury in anticipation of the Spending Review 2019, he informed, which will probably be deferred to the autumn. “The Home Office has asked the NFCC to contribute to their report and put forward evidence to support future funding for English fire and rescue services. The nature of the submission is broader than funding,” he advised, “considering risk management and the approach to incidents.”
Meetings have taken place with the Fire Service Sector Group chaired by the Home Office and supported by NFCC and FSMC around the themed pillars of demand and risk, and efficiency and productivity. The sector needs to provide a narrative, DCFO Hales said, around what has been saved and improved since SR 2015 and articulate where fire and rescue services can become more efficient and provide evidence for that. Also, what is the vision, what investment is required and what will the improved outcomes be? He said. Likewise, if research and development is to be funded in future, “we need to articulate that to the Home Office as part of the bid”.
The Fire and Rescue Service is unique in having one foot in MHCLG whilst policy is driven by the Home Office, so an integrated approach related to efficiency and productivity is required, DCFO Hales suggested. The NFCC’s Community Risk Programme supporting risk management and IRMPs is bringing these together to understand how to approach risk and ensure everybody does the same.
“We will continue to work with the Home Office and MHCLG on the submission but we need to provide evidence,” DCFO Hales concluded. “It is a challenge as fire is not protected and other challenges still exist such as pensions and pay.”
DCFO Dawn Docx, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, provided the proof of the pudding when it comes to risk versus demand when she reviewed the moorland fires in Lancashire and Manchester where “we couldn’t possibly have designed our services to meet these demands. From June 24 to July 11, 2018 as moorland fires raged and a major incident occurred, fire and rescue services across the North West experienced a huge spike in calls that were not even linked to wildfires.
“We didn’t have suitable vehicles or the experience and knowledge so we had to get support from Cumbria and South Wales to work out a strategy,” she informed delegates. The response took all of Manchester’s resources and those of surrounding services in the North West. Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service appliances were even located to the centre of Manchester as second pumps. The bill, DCFO Docx said, would come in at £1.1 billion and, she warned: “This is going to happen time and again – we can’t afford to take this hit.”
NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher told delegates that there is a major job to do together to influence government to get the investment required
NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher closed the session by providing an insightful update on discussions with the Home Office, remarking that they were not concerned about austerity and the sector “needs to be more productive and effective in future.” However, he provided an upbeat note in observing that the Home Office is now talking about risk as well as demand. “At least we’re having that conversation”.
More positive vibes would be imparted later in conference when new starter Luke Edwards, Director, Fire and Resilience at the Home Office, said his department is listening and stressed the difference between fire and police.
“We are behind the police in giving evidence,” Mr Wilsher said but that has been hindered by a 23 per cent reduction in the workforce. “We need to evidence how we make a difference. The core themes for the Home Office are around safety and security, prosperity and the impact on other services. We have a good story to tell on all of those.”
Mr Wilsher concluded by saying that we need to ensure the brand is valued and relevant. “There is a major job of work to do together to influence government to get the investment we need.” (See pg 7 for NFCC comment on funding).
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