Reset appeal to Fire Reform White Paper

As the nation begins to edge its way out of lockdown, this issue is jam-packed full of promise: wistful projections on police and crime commissioner takeovers, aspirations to meet recommendations from the former and recently released State of Fire reports, and of course, thoughts of a fruitful future with the forthcoming Fire Reform White Paper.

Alas, as Boris would say, everywhere you look there’s a ruckus in the making: no sooner are fire authority councillors rallying against the dying of the light than Sir Tom springs up to douse any hopes of an upset with a quick reminder of where true power lies. “Of course there are rows about these things. When people lose power, they get upset. If it the will of Parliament, they will just have to get on with it,” he says.

Sadly, much of the debate is stuck in the trenches of structural reform, with the form itself barely getting a look in for all the functional discord. The Fire Brigades Union’s irate response to Sir Tom Winsor’s repeated criticism of fire services “thwarted by restricted working practices” shows no signs of abating, with the Tripartite Agreement quickly consigned elsewhere to the lowercase dustbin of history. That is not meant as a criticism of the well-meaning consensus-seeking initiative, but Fire Service tradition asserts that there will be as few supporters left standing for the agreement as there are that remain for the little-lamented integrated personal development system. FIRE, as always, serves as a record of who said what, when.

At time of writing – exactly one year on from the first lockdown – there are even more pressing concerns as we commemorate the life-altering loss imposed by the global pandemic. In an unimaginably tragic and existentially challenging year, life has changed beyond recognition for us all, even if the longer-term impacts are yet to be fully realised.

In projecting fire and rescue’s place in an uncertain future, the Fire Reform White Paper faces sailing an unsteady course, regardless of implicit structural reform. It is to be hoped that the broad potential of fire and rescue – illustrated through the range of contributions to the UK’s emergency response to Covid – will be fully realised in an expanded civil protection role.

It is exactly why FIRE’s award-winning White Paper from last April’s issue called for fire and rescue to be an integral component of a civil protection response in resetting how society functions. Implicit within the new architecture was a reset for fire and rescue, a requirement for dynamic leadership and resetting resilient and connected communities. This led to a call for a Charter for Resilience (see May, June, July-August 2020 issues) which provides a comprehensive cheat sheet for government advisors, senior civil servants and ministers, as seen with the establishment of a new agency focused on preparing for the next pandemic.

We are all obsessed with getting this right and creating the best model possible for response, but FIRE would urge concentration on asking the right questions, such as, what is this all for? What is the purpose of fire and rescue? How much more can it contribute?

Otherwise it’ll all be about enduring the pain of restructure without the benefits to society. And nobody wants that.


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