penny mordauntFire Minister Penny Mordaunt has suggested that the Fire and Rescue Service is "at a crossroads with enormous potential for growth, but a need to break from its traditional roles & expand into other areas".

Her speech at the Local Government Association Fire Conference yesterday [10 February] received a mixed response from attendees including members of CFOA, local government, and firefighters as she discussed changes in the service in her 35 weeks in post and plans for the future.

"Although I shall not be claiming credit for it, in that short space of time [since the CFOA Conference 2014] substantial progress has been made by the service, and in the profile of the service across Whitehall and in our communities," she said.

"From Home Office to Foreign Office the fire service’s activities are highly regarded, whether it is its resilience role, its contribution to international development or getting businesses back to work quickly, the breadth and quality of what you do is recognised and appreciated.

"The recent appalling arson attacks in Oxfordshire were one pertinent example to my own department where we saw Oxfordshire Fire Rescue Service not only dealing with that serious situation but also 2 other major incidents at the same time. Ably and seamlessly supported by neighbouring services they did a terrific job and enabled the council to re-establish its services to the community before the blaze was out."

Fire and Rescue Services' role as a partner
She went on to explain that the Service's role in prevention is well understood and third parties are alive to the possibilities that are opened up with the fire and rescue service as a partner.

The Minister also went on to praise a range of initiatives including:
- Merseyside’s campaign to deliver important safety messages such as having working smoke alarms on each floor of the house.
- Devon and Somerset’s chip pan fire demonstrations
- Humberside’s awareness raising during Chinese New Year of the dangers of lanterns
- West Midlands push on volunteering in the fire service and the cadets.
- Cheshire internationally recognised leadership in road safety and its innovative work with primary and secondary schools
- Lancashire’s focus on reducing levels of anti-social behaviour and associated fire-related incidents through football
- New services designed and developed in Norfolk which stemmed from the ideas front line firefighters had for using specialist dogs to trace fatalities through the water
- West Midlands have developed, and will advance, 999 Eye with other emergency services, health care professionals and community services, which will make use of social media to build up a picture of the scene of an incident to enable the ideal response to be mounted
- Humberside, who have set up a trading arm to deliver training in CPR and supplement the ambulance and first responder service
- Dorset and Wiltshire for their move to merger
- Oxfordshire and Staffordshire have dedicated business support managers and teams that work with partners, businesses and communities to prevent fires and in cases where there are devastating fires this function can advise and assist those in returning to normal which benefits business, staff and the community

She continued: "The fire service is continuing its excellent record on prevention and community engagement. In reaching the most hard to reach, and the most vulnerable and in cracking the tough stuff. That is recognised not only within government but with agencies and the third sector who are focussed on the communities you serve.

Vision for the Service
Ms Mordaunt also announced that following the consideration of responses to the public discussion paper on Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector the government are introducing regulations requiring private sector landlords to install smoke alarms on each storey of their property, carbon monoxide alarms in the rooms considered most at risk from high levels of carbon monoxide and to check the alarms are in working order at the start of any new tenancy.

To aid this, the government will be providing additional one-off funding to fire and rescue authorities this financial year to enable them to support landlords in the transition to complying with these new regulations. Estimates suggest that the regulations will result in up to 36 fewer fatalities and 1,529 fewer injuries over a 10 year period.

Alongside this targeted regulation for carbon monoxide alarms the government intends to pursue non-regulatory alternatives to encourage installation of carbon monoxide alarms in all private rented sector properties.

The Minister also praised the efforts of the Chief Fire Officers Association in acknowledging "that the sector needs to procure smarter and better to deliver efficiencies".

"They have taken ownership and have shown leadership by not only developing a national procurement strategy but by creating a national fire back office which could mean that procurement, and other policy areas would be co-ordinated nationally. And my department has awarded £370,000 from the Fire Transformation fund to support this," she said.

"The energy, drive and focus is tremendous. But just as the service has moved, so have the goal posts. There are a million more pensioners now than there were at the start of the Parliament. There are 40,000 more people with dementia in the UK than there were a year ago. The number of people over 85 is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30.

"There are new demands on the service, to support national resilience, and potential new scenarios the service might respond to. The pace required to adapt to the changing need and greater demand is phenomenal. Government has been trying to remove the milestones which slow you down in transforming your services.

"Transformation funding has provided much needed capital to help make those changes, and also incentivised authorities to take the plunge, whether it is a new headquarters or greater collaboration of blue light services or merger. The findings of the Cabinet Office data sharing project, which not only looks at data sharing between statutory services but also with the third sector too is an invaluable piece of work and I know chimes with one of the key asks in your first 100 days manifesto and will add further momentum to the array of projects looking at better targeting of prevention strategies.

"And where we can change the law or bring in new initiatives responding to what you have told us we have done so. Most recently in introducing roadside drug testing. But to ensure the pace remains and that the service can make best of use of all of this we need strong leadership and excellent management."

To conclude, Ms Mordaunt set out her vision for the service:
- A Service whose reach touches every vulnerable person in the community
- That acts in seamlessly with its neighbours and its partners
- The go to place for innovation, training and community action
- Where all employees work in an environment where they are valued and can thrive
- Where their ideas and vision are acted on
- Where their race, age, gender and sexual orientation is irrelevant to the facilities they have access to, or their promotion opportunities and reflects the community they serve
- A service which provides a uniform that fits. And modern, fit for purpose kit
- Where best practice is shared and best value achieved
- Where every firefighter can be a member of whichever union they chose or none
- Where everyone has everyone’s back.
- A service which is respected and valued by the community it serves
- Where the parents, as well as the kids, wave and cheer as it goes by
- A service where everyone in it understands its values and purpose and how they can deliver on both
- A service that is the hall mark of leadership, integrity and duty.

Adrian Thomas Review
Day 2 of the LGA Fire Conference will see Adrian Thomas discuss the findings of his Conditions of Service Review - to follow his comments live use #lgafireconf on Twitter