National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher looks back at the impact of Covid-19 on fire and rescue services and forward to continued investment in key FRS activity.
Now feels like a good time to reflect and take stock; to both look back at the impact on fire and rescue services due to Covid-19 and, just as importantly, to look forward to other areas of work. I, along with NFCC, remain focussed and dedicated to working hard on behalf of all FRSs across the UK.
Whilst in general lockdown restrictions have eased somewhat, we remain in a time of uncertainty and fire and rescue services (FRSs) continue to step up. The Tripartite agreement has been extended to September 30, the number of FRS Covid-related activities stand at almost 400,000, absence remains remarkably low with overall absence at 3.6 per cent and Covid-related absence at just 1.5 per cent.
I will reiterate what I have said before: this is remarkable and my thanks to everyone in fire and rescue for all their efforts.
The economic impact of the pandemic is not yet fully known, but it is fair to say that many of us will be surprised if the aftermath doesn’t bring fiscal constraint.
Last year was the first time in more than a decade when the spending round didn’t mean reductions for fire and rescue services. I spent many hours talking through the budget financial figures with government colleagues, ably supported by John Buckley and the Finance Committee. This led to government investment in fire and rescue services in England. Fire protection in FRSs has seen investment of £16m, another £7m has gone to support implementation of the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations, £5.4m direct to FRSs. Personally, I am particularly pleased that £4m has been invested directly in to the NFCC Protection Hub with yet another £3m invested in NFCC central structures, including the Central Programme Office.
The challenge is to see this level of investment continue and even improve as we face financial uncertainty. I worked with the Fire Services Management Committee to agree support for a dedicated resource to be placed within the Home Office, to ensure our bid is better formed than ever before. Further work on the NFCC Digital and Data programme over the next few years will help produce the data we need to make our future bids even stronger in future.
Much of the investment referenced is focussed on building safety and the need for us to help fix the broken building safety system highlighted in the Dame Judith Hackitt review.
The investment in protection in FRSs will assist, but so will the £4m invested in the NFCC Protection Hub. This will see the Building Safety Team joined by other colleagues to support the work of the Protection Board, the Building Risk Review, support fire and rescue services and develop guidance equivalent to National Operational Guidance for Protection.
One of the unintended consequences of the building safety failure – and the fact that 160 ACM clad buildings still need to be remediated – is the financial and psychological affect on leaseholders. We are trying to support them and have redrafted the simultaneous evacuation (Waking Watch) guidance to be more supportive of leaseholders.
I have not even covered the terrorist attacks, national wildfires and flooding, the introduction of HMICFRS, police and crime commissioners and the different ministers, permanent secretaries, director generals and directors; all needing NFCC to be a steady and authoritative organisation in turbulent times.
“The challenge is to see this level of investment continue and even improve as we face financial uncertainty”
It doesn’t feel like the next few years will be any different; economic impact, pay claims, pension remediation, a probable new framework for England, New Dimensions 2 project, Covid, EU exit and the enactment of the Building and Fire Safety Bills.
However, NFCC has the financial investment that has moved us from an organisation turning over less than £1m in 2017 to a £10.5m organisation in 2020. NFCC will have more full-time staff as a result, plus the dedication and commitment of our programme executives, steering group, committee chairs and workstream leads.
This will enable us to do even more good work and I think solid foundations are in placed to meet those challenges.