FIRE Comment March 2020

Fire improvement drive

Following release of the HMI’s State of Fire report, what impact do you think the assessment and inspections will have on fire and rescue services across the UK? I was asked this seemingly straightforward question as a preview to the forthcoming Future of UK Fire and Rescue Services Conference on May 28.

The automatic response was that it should have an enormous impact for individual fire and rescue services, especially those requiring improvement. Putting on my thinking cap and matching empathy breeches, I said that on a broader scale it provides a narrative on where the Service is at, specifically around culture and leadership with significant gains needing to be made on both counts. However, factor in the government’s building safety changes and recommendations coming from the Grenfell Inquiry and no foreseeable input or improvement in resources and it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of work to be done with little support. Context is everything (see pg 13 for broader picture of the world of fire).

I would finish with a flourish, as one always endeavours to end on an upbeat note. On the plus side, I said, emergency service workers always strive to provide the best possible service to the public and all stakeholders in the fire sector will come together to support that central aim. It’s still a world-leading fire and rescue service but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Which got me thinking: exactly how?


“Take every part and challenge ourselves to make it better”

Technical Director James Allison, Mercedes Formula 1


Side-stepping to other related spheres, I mapped across to challenges in the media world. Considering the context of publishing being in constant flux and serving an austerity-hit public service, I reflected on our 112 years plus presence and purpose, ie how are we still present and what is our purpose? More importantly, what are we doing differently? (see opposite).

As Chair of The Fire Fighters Charity, I have considered how we would measure up in the pillars of effectiveness, efficiency and people. We have undoubtedly delivered efficiencies to turn around a deficit budget into a surplus (see Strategic Plan 2017-2020 at but that does not mean we cannot improve further. Feedback on service delivery is exceptional thanks to our high-performing personnel (see charity focus, FIRE November 2019). But there is no room for complacency and the repurposing of Harcombe House is a foreshadow to a transformation in service delivery centring on physical, mental and social wellbeing.

What inspired me more than anything was a quote from Mercedes during Formula 1 pre-season testing at which Technical Director James Allison said the new car is a “big step forward”. For those without an interest in motor racing, this is the same team that has won the driver and constructor championship for a record six years in succession. No mean feat.

The temptation, James said, was to keep polishing what was a world-beating car. “That conservative approach was very, very tempting. But in the end we decided that wouldn’t be enough.” So what will be good enough? “Take every part and challenge ourselves to make it better.”

I was approached to interview a former chief constable on a police perspective on leadership as part of the newly launched National Leadership Centre. The de-facto stream of questioning ran along the lines of: what makes a great leader? and, why is the National Leadership Centre and cross-sector leadership important?

What I should have asked was: what makes a good leader great? and, how do you challenge yourself to take every part of an organisation and make it better?

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More