Fire leaders have warned that private sector cash and expertise is essential if the UK's Fire Service College is to carry on training the nation's firefighters. The call follows a four-month review of the government-owned national asset by a special team set up by the Local Government Association's Fire Commission, which represents fire authorities across England and Wales.
After taking evidence from chief fire officers, fire authority chairmen and businesses, the cross-party working group concluded private partnership with strong leadership from fire authorities is the only option to secure the future of the institution. Under government control the college has been on a spiral of decline, being underused and beset by high overheads and debt. Years of underinvestment mean it is now in dire need of renovation if it is to avoid closure.
At a meeting of the LGA Fire Commission today, members recommend a contractual partnership with the fire sector overseeing governance, policy direction and setting standards, and a business partner running day-to-day operation of the college.
David Cartwright, member of the Fire Commission and Chairman of the Fire Service College Working Group, said: "The UK's Fire Service College is extremely important and we are calling on the Fire Minister to follow our recommendations and take urgent action to secure its future. High quality training at an affordable price is a number one priority for fire chiefs and chairs across the country and college should have a central role in this.
"However, the way it's operating at the moment is not fit for the 21st century. Archaic civil service rules are stifling entrepreneurial spirit and many of its facilities are in need of upgrade and repair. Action must be taken now to transform the college back into a state-of-the-art world class facility. It has fantastic potential and still has a place at the heart of the nation's Fire Service.
"The business acumen and extra investment a private partner would provide, coupled with strong leadership from experts in the fire sector, is exactly the shot in the arm it needs."
The Fire Service College, based at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, provides about half of specialist and operational training for the UK's fire and rescue services, as well as training for many brigades from abroad. It's also used by Government agencies and the private sector.
The working group set a four-point vision for the college:
· It be a central, top quality component of national training for firefighters and other emergency services
· It offer training packages, for operational command and practical skills, which deliver service-wide standards of competence, are based on actual and current risk, and can be tailored to meet the needs of individual fire and rescue services
· It be a properly funded, financially viable national asset with state-of-the-art facilities to offer training at commercially competitive prices
· It be able to deliver training at a range of sites across the country making it cheaper and more convenient for fire authorities.
Posted: 12.54am, 21.06.11, firstname.lastname@example.org