As 2017 draws to a close I wanted to take the chance to reflect on the past 12 months and thank our firefighters, staff and volunteers for their tireless service.

This year was marked by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. Words cannot adequately express the sheer bravery displayed by firefighters as they tackled this unprecedented fire. I am grateful to everyone – regardless of role – who responded to this incredibly difficult and challenging incident. This disaster should not have happened and the Prime Minister has set up an independent public inquiry to get to the heart of what occurred and what can be done to prevent a similar disaster.

I have seen the vital role fire and rescue services play to protect communities and the tireless work they do to keep the public safe, often being the first faces people will see in an emergency. I have seen at first-hand how wide-ranging your work is, from frontline fire fighting and rescues, the fire prevention activity and community engagement, and your wider role with a range of local partners. Your work has contributed to the remarkable reduction in the number of fires in England over the past decade.

Fire and rescue services have made great strides over the past year to become more effective and efficient. I welcome the bold steps many services have taken to increase collaboration with your local partners to improve the service you provide to your communities. We have seen some big changes across the fire and rescue sector this year. In October, PCC Roger Hirst became the country’s first Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner where he took responsibility for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service. I know that other PCCs are exploring options.

We also saw the creation of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC). I am extremely grateful for the support of its chair – Roy Wilsher – and the NFCC in general provided to me in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the terror attacks in Manchester and London. In what was a fast paced environment, receiving expert advice and being able to have a conversation with services was absolutely vital and showed immediately the value of this new organisation. There is no doubt that the NFCC has made its mark in the most testing of circumstances and I look forward to seeing that positive impact continuing as they deliver their strategy, and support us to implement our reform programme.

This year, I also asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to expand their remit to take on inspection of fire and rescue services which is a fundamental element of our reform programme. The first full inspection will take place next summer and I believe this inspectorate will have a vital role in supporting the continuous improvement of services. Looking ahead to 2018, the development of a comprehensive set of professional standards will help ensure fire personnel are supported to meet challenges of the 21st century.

Our reform programme seeks to support services and all fire personnel to be the most professional in the world because the Government recognises the impressive dedication of our emergency services, while the public will be with friends and loved ones over Christmas, many of you will be still at work, keeping us safe. Once again I thank you all for your hard work.

I hope the New Year will bring many more opportunities for me to meet you and hear the ideas you have for improving fire and rescue. Merry Christmas and I wish you a very safe and happy New Year.