The findings of Sir Ken Knight’s 'Facing the Future' report have provoked an unprecedented level of response from those involved within the fire and rescue sector with the reaction ranging from "welcoming" to concerns over "implied criticisms".
In his report, Sir Ken Knight, who was until recently the government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, identifies that deaths, injuries and emergencies have reduced steadily over the years, but that the resources provided to deal with them have stayed around the same.
He wrote that nearly £200 million could be saved if each fire authority adopted the practices of those who are most efficient [full story here].
Already leading the way
Bucks FRS Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones says his Service are "already leading the way" in terms of making efficiency savings without impacting on public safety.
"We have reduced our annual wage bill for full-time uniformed staff by more than £1 million in the last four years without compromising the safety of the public or our firefighters," CFO Jones explained.
"Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes are served by the lowest cost fire and rescue service in the country. We have a revenue budget of around £29 million and serve and protect more than 750,000 citizens who enjoy really good levels of fire safety."
CFO Jones agreed with the report’s recommendation that services should consider merging to save money, pointing to Bucks planned control room partnership with Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
But he warned: “I am on record as stating that merging managerial, back-room and service delivery functions is the way ahead, however, as Sir Ken has highlighted, the political will to make the suggested changes is not always apparent in all areas."
Outstanding performance results
Lancashire FRS are also planning to enter a similar partnership in the North West and CFO Chris Kenny believes the Service's recent results of a 57% fall in the number of fire casualties from five years ago show how any "implied criticisms" in the report "do not ring true here".
"Despite being the highest performing Fire and Rescue Service in the country when last reviewed, Lancashire was not one of those Sir Ken visited when doing his research," CFO Kenny said. "However, it is encouraging that a number of his proposals mirror those we have already introduced in Lancashire, including our flexible crewing arrangements that is a model that other FRS are following. We welcome any review that may assist us in making further savings and will be looking carefully at the report to identify areas which will deliver tangible improvements."
Recognising the impact of fire prevention
Chair of the Local Government Association's Fire Services Management Committee Cllr Kay Hammond was pleased that Sir Ken's review "rightly recognised the sharp decline in fire incidents is vastly because of the excellent preventative work which fire and rescue services have in place".
"However," Cllr Hammond continued, "it is clear that without major reforms to the service this will not be enough to sustain it in the future. Therefore we will study the findings with great interest and are pleased that the Government intends to consult with the sector before it makes its own response."
With Sir Ken's review calling for greater partnership work in England, an All Wales Fire & Rescue Service spokesman said it validated the approach taken by the three Welsh Services since their amalgamation from eight services to three in 1996.