As the Spending Review announcements from the new coalition government loom closer, the Chief Fire Officers' Association (CFOA) has set out its case for the future resourcing of the Fire and Rescue Services in England. Whilst acknowledging that cuts to public spending are inevitable to tackle the country's budget deficit, CFOA has put forward a powerful argument to the government to ensure public safety and civil protection during the turbulent times ahead. CFOA also believes that the Fire and Rescue Service already delivers significant benefits to local communities above and beyond its core emergency response role, and can further increase productivity by taking on additional response functions from other emergency services.
CFOA President, Peter Holland, explains: "The Fire and Rescue Service is a highly respected, trusted frontline service, with a strong community presence. We are also part of the critical national infrastructure, providing civil protection in the event of major widespread emergencies. Our professional response capability has been demonstrated a number of times in recent months and years, with terrorist attacks on London; widespread flooding in Gloucestershire, South Yorkshire and Cumbria; humanitarian assistance during the extreme winter weather in January this year; the Buncefield oil depot disaster. We are able to put 8,000 operational trained staff on the streets in minutes and another 40,000 in a matter of a few hours. As the country faces increasing risks from climate change and terrorist activity, especially as we approach Olympics 2012, the Fire and Rescue Service is critical to ensuring public safety."
"The resourcing of the Fire and Rescue Service is on the basis of risks in the community, not on demand - something which is fairly unique in public services. We are the local insurance policy, costing on average 27p per day for every household in England, with an immediate response 100 per cent of the time, when you need us. This means that we need a minimum number of fire stations and firefighters to ensure we can give this level of service to anyone in need. We have an innate capacity, which for many years we have been using to best effect in our community fire safety and wider prevention work with young people and vulnerable adults. Our extensive experience in prevention has resulted in a dramatic fall in recent years of deaths and injuries in fires. CFOA is now calling for CLG and the Department of Health to commission a review to explore whether a closer integration of fire and rescue services with the ambulance service could improve patient care and public safety whilst reducing operating costs."
Increasing medical co-responding, with ambulance and fire and rescue services will undoubtedly save lives - estimated to be over 420 a year. Approximately £2.2 billion is spent on the fire and rescue services in England each year, 80 per cent of this spent on frontline operational staff. Services have already achieved £185 million of efficiencies since 2004 by introducing more effective crewing arrangements, buying fire engines and uniforms centrally as well as dramatically cutting sickness absence rates. Back office staff levels in the FRS are substantially lower than in other parts of the public sector and many administrative functions are already shared with host local authorities, or outsourced.
The Fire Minister, Bob Neill MP, called on the Fire and Rescue Service to 'seize the opportunity' during his speech at the Fire Conference in Harrogate earlier this year.
Mr Neill said: "It is time for the sector to step up and seize the opportunities that are coming your way. I recognise that the Fire and Rescue Service has come a long way but it now needs to prove that it can be bold and innovative."
CFO Holland responded: "We are a highly visible and respected presence in communities providing public reassurance with a can-do ethos. We can build on our positive reputation to help to deliver the government's Big Society. It would be disastrous if FRSs had to pull back from, or stop altogether, their effective prevention work. And we can do more, but more with the same, not more with less. Cuts that go too deep will put the safety of the public and firefighters at risk and will have a damaging impact for many years to come."