Fire and rescue services in England have made improvements in some areas, but more change is urgently required, a new report has found.
In his third and final assessment of England’s fire and rescue services before leaving his post in March 2022, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Sir Thomas Winsor, found that:
- services have made good progress on protection, which includes auditing the safety of premises at risk of fire, and that most services are better at promoting a positive professional culture;
- outdated and ineffective structures for negotiating pay, terms and conditions are where reform is most needed, which would reduce the risk of industrial action; and
- if no progress is made on national reform, then the removal of firefighters’ right to strike should be considered.
Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services said:
“Firefighters and other staff continue to work hard to help their communities, and I thank them for their service – particularly during the pandemic. The fire and rescue sector has made progress in some areas since our first inspections in 2018, but more change is urgently required.
“I am disappointed that the windspeed of national reform has dropped. Although the pandemic has understandably delayed progress, the public cannot wait any longer. The efficiency and effectiveness of services is hindered by the continued threat of industrial action, and the removal of firefighters’ right to strike should be considered.
“Another obstacle hampering progress to modernise this important public service is a woeful lack of workforce diversity.
“Responsibility to make these changes does not lie solely with chief fire officers – political leaders and policy makers must also take action and raise the priority of fire reform. The service, its staff and the public deserve no less.”
The Chief Inspector previously made six recommendations for national reform of the fire and rescue sector.
One of these recommendations was to introduce a code of ethics. Following the publication of the code in May 2021, the Chief Inspector has said he had already seen evidence of services making the code part of their values and policies.
However, Sir Thomas Winsor said four of his recommendations have still not been implemented. These include giving chief fire officers operational independence, reviewing the machinery determining terms and conditions, and the Home Office determining the role of fire and rescue services and firefighters.
Today’s report also mentioned improvements made by several services, including Avon and Surrey. During the inspectorate’s first inspections in 2018, these were two of the services with the worst performance.