In a guest column from the September edition of FIRE Magazine Lee Howell takes a look back over the past 12 months he has served as Chief Fire Officers Association President:
When I became President of CFOA in September 2011, my stated intention for the year ahead was to help CFOA become:
As I hand over to Vij Randeniya, I am delighted to be able to show some real progress on each of these. At the same time, the environment within which we operated continued to change, presenting challenges such as: a potential national strike, acquittal of three fire officers on manslaughter charges, 2012 Olympics, fuel shortages as well as progress on a new national framework and a new strategic resilience board.
So, how did we do? To support the first objective 'become stronger professionally', we initiated the Fire and Rescue Council. This is comprised of one senior representative from each service (usually the chief fire officer) coming together to directly influence CFOA Board thinking. It provides a mechanism for direct feedback and facilitates a common view on a range of issues. We can now determine what the majority of fire and rescue services think on any given subject. Putting up corporate subscriptions and our future requirements for the Fire Service College are two examples where we listened to views and were able to project our position with confidence to other key stakeholders.
A key component of CFOA becoming stronger professionally is the policy development and sharing of good practice that is undertaken by directors and lead officers through respective work streams and I really do have to pay tribute to Dave Curry, Des Prichard, Roy Wilsher and Susan Johnson. These four directors are some of the most capable officers I have ever had the privilege to work with and their dedication, commitment and sheer professionalism is second to none. Through them, we have improved communication, engagement and involvement.
In our desire to increasingly shape the future agenda, we commissioned 'Vision 2020'. This work was led by Rick Hylton and the Members Sounding Board who, supported by external consultants, produced a series of future scenarios based on a range of political and financial assumptions. At the same time, we considered where an extension of current government thinking might take us within each of the four possible scenarios in order to directly inform CFOA policy so that we respond effectively and continue to lead the profession.
We have confirmed our position as a credible source of professional advice this year and one of our most influential engagements saw us respond to the Home Secretary's multi-agency review of emergency service interoperability. Due to the efforts of Roy Wilsher, who led the implementation of this work and produced some tangible outcomes in a short period, our credibility has been strengthened across government.
We have also been instrumental in shaping the Strategic Resilience Board arrangements and through CFOA National Resilience, have signed a refreshed MoU with DCLG. Perhaps notably, we have secured a pan European Vision (which we initiated) which aims to share good practice, including improving firefighter safety across Europe.
We also established the Fire Future Forums to help shape the future for our profession. The intention is to bring together key stakeholders to discuss a specific issue with a view to improving understanding, implementation or shape future policy. We have had No10 Policy Unit, Civil Contingencies Secretariat and Cabinet Office attendees amongst others and some high quality output produced which is influencing the future.
We have developed good relationships this year with all key stakeholders and whilst we do not always agree on issues, we respect differing perspectives and try to secure mutually beneficial outcomes.
As CFOA is no longer supported by government grant, the need to ensure we are financially sustainable remains a key objective. We are starting to generate income and have some innovative ideas, some unique selling points and a strong brand that we aim to capitalise on in the medium term. We have also taken out some significant costs from within the Association but we took the difficult decision to put up corporate subscriptions earlier in the year after taking views and guidance from colleagues at the FRS Council. There was overwhelming support to do so as the cost for access to policy development, communities of good practice and networks of influence is still excellent value for money. At year end, our budget deficit has closed significantly.
In closing, to hold the role as President is an immense privilege but I have seen that it is the contribution of each and every CFOA member that has created such a strong and credible organisation. I am extremely grateful to Vij and Paul, to Board colleagues, Rhonda Bedford and the team at HQ for their support. I would also like to place on record my sincere appreciation to Cllr Mark Healey and my fire authority as well as Neil Gibbins and my management team at Devon and Somerset for giving me the time and space to do what was necessary. Finally, without Andy Newlands assistance, I would not have been able to function effectively. May I wish Vij Randeniya, Paul Fuller and Peter Dartford the very best fortune as we head into a future that is full of challenge and change but also full of opportunity. We are in good hands.