Communities and Local Government recently held a 'ministerial workshop' to launch its strategic review of the Fire and Rescue Service. 

The fire sector faces an emerging set of challenges - economic, social and physical - over the short, medium and long terms. It must proactively change to meet these challenges to maintain its effectiveness in serving communities and to represent value for money to the wider public purse. Along with this is an expectation from government that the Service reflect localism, decentralisation, transparency, accountability and the 'Big Society' in what it does. 

Role of FRS Delivery Models 

Many questions were posed at the event, along several themes. These included, are the current set of roles and functions the right ones going forward? Should the FRS take on additional roles or could delivery of current functions by others better meet these objectives now or in the future? If so, what would the delivery model look like?

The role of the FRS in the new environment, and the functions that should be delivered 

  • What are the drivers for change? What degree of change might be required to the fire delivery model to meet these challenges?
  • Challenges: finance, demographic, climate change, health and equality
  • Government expectations: transparency, Big Society, total place
  • What are the core functions a FRA should deliver?
  • Has the risk profile changed? Does this affect the role expected of the Service?
  • Can and should IRMP be developed further to better support localism objectives and the performance of the Service locally/nationally?

How could FRS services join with other emergency/public services to improve delivery and value for money in public spending? 

  • How could shared emergency services, with police and/or ambulance, contribute to delivering the core national function and what other benefits could it bring?
  • What are the barriers to better joint working with other public services and how could they be overcome?

The implications of any proposed changes to the delivery model for the skills and profile of the workforce and vice versa. 

  • What are the implications for the workforce of any changes in role which might be considered?
  • What would be the implications for skills/organisation/culture?

Should the FRA take a step back from direct service delivery? 

  • Should FRAs move to a model where they commission some or all of their services rather than provide them direct?

Efficiency, Effectiveness and Productivity 

We are in a tight fiscal environment where the Service is likely to be expected to do more with less. Are there changes in how fire and rescue services are provided which would enable improvements in cost effectiveness in the provision of fire and rescue services in England while improving - or at worst having a neutral impact - on effectiveness? Are there opportunities to improve productivity?

Alternative options for providing FRS services 

  • What would models being used or developed overseas have to offer?
  • Is there an optimum size/number of FRAs, and if so how could change be incentivised?
  • How could shared services offer efficiencies, at the back office level, the senior operational level and political level?

The local government funding system (including that for the FRS) is to be reviewed in 2011. Are there additional funding mechanisms which could contribute to FRS resourcing? 

  • Should insurance or charging mechanisms help pay for the Service? (Levies on policies could pay for the Service. For example, road traffic accidents and house fires, or costs for attending these could be re-charged?)
  • False alarms? Additional services for businesses?

Is the balance of where the FRS spends its resources correct? 

  • Should FRAs focus more on or less on prevention?
  • How should better use of the skills of the workforce be made? (For example, providing first aid training for local people making them more responsible for their own safety and health and reducing the burden on the NHS, or promoting community resilience)
  • The role many FRAs are playing in local partnerships tackling a wide range of local priorities 'adds value' to the national resource represented by the FRS. Can this be quantified, and should different roles and functions by FRAs be determined nationally or locally?

Making better use of assets 

  • Can the FRA estate be better used between FRAs, with other public sector bodies and with the private sector?
  • Are appliances still appropriate?

 Localism and Accountability 

Would alternative community engagement and governance structures improve localism and performance in the delivery of FRS services now and in the medium/long term?

Localism in relation to the Fire and Rescue Service. How does the FRS ensure it is responsible and accountable to local citizens? 

  • How can engagement with the public on the nature of local services and the way in which they are delivered be improved?
  • What are the best public services doing, and how can the FRS learn from this?

Transparency and accountablity to local service users. 

  • Do the current governance models enable FRAs to be as accountable to local citizens and communities as they could be?
  • Are there better models - for instance, police, ambulance
  • Should joint governance with other emergencies services be considered?

Promoting the 'Big Society' 

  • Should wider models of volunteering be delivered looking at international models for some aspects of the work, harnessing volunteer support in dealing with emergencies?
  • How can the FRS go further on the Big Society?

How can the FRS provide assurance about performance and capability? 

  • How can FRAs assure their service users on the quality and value for money of their services?
  • What assurance should be offered about FRS performance, both locally and nationally, and to and by whom in a decentralised world?

National Interest 

Where does the national and government interest lie?

What should the respective roles of the FRS and government be on national resilience? 

  • National risk assessment
  • Major terrorist and other incidents
  • Interoperability
  • New Dimensions.

Other issues include: 

  • Research
  • Sponsor/voice in Whitehall
  • Central funding

Is having a National Framework consistent with localism? If so, what form should it take? 

Decentralisation project to run alongside Fire Futures.