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Government publishes official response to Fire and Rescue Service Reform White Paper and consultation

18 December 2023

THE GOVERNMENT has now published its official response to the Fire and Rescue Service Reform White Paper and consultation. The announcement was made by Chris Philp, the Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire, on 12 December.

Last year, the Government published its White Paper entitled ‘Reforming Our Fire and Rescue Service’ in order to gauge public and sector views on driving reform in this arena. Proposals put forward were built on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the recommendations from independent inspections conducted by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), challenging national report findings and, of course, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

In the period since the White Paper was published, further challenges in the fire sector have been the focus of public and parliamentary debate. One such is the independent review of culture in the London Fire Brigade and HMICFRS’ own national spotlight report into values and culture. These reports highlighted misconduct in multiple Fire and Rescue Services and uncovered totally unacceptable behaviours. The White Paper response sets out Government’s ambition to improve integrity across the sector.

The feedback on proposals has allowed the Government to refine next steps. The package of reform will focus on those areas that have the biggest impact for the public and for fire professionals: developing a profession to be proud of and ensuring that Fire and Rescue Services do more to put the public first. These include:

*introducing a professional College of Fire and Rescue to raise standards and strengthen leadership

*developing provision for fire chiefs to have operational independence

*tasking the National Joint Council to review the pay negotiation mechanism

*taking action to improve integrity and culture in Fire and Rescue Services through improved training, more open recruitment practices and working towards a statutory Code of Ethics for fire and rescue employees

The Government’s response has been laid before Parliament as a Command Paper (CP 993) and is available to view online at at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reforming-our-fire-and-rescue-service

Response from the NFCC

Responding to the Government’s consultation response, Mark Hardingham – chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) – said: “We welcome the response to the White Paper consultation, which sets out the headline plans for long-awaited investment and reform to support continued improvement of Fire and Rescue Services.”

Hardingham continued: “Fire and Rescue Services are staffed by dedicated and professional public servants who go above and beyond every day to keep people safe, whether that be in firefighting roles, 999 control operators, prevention and protection services or the wider roles they play in supporting staff and protecting local communities. It’s right that they have the full support of Government.”

Further, Hardingham noted: “We welcome the announcement that there will be a statutory Code of Ethics. Something that builds upon the work of the NFCC and Fire and Rescue Services to improve organisational culture and workforce diversity, in part through the existing national Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services.”

In addition, Hardingham observed: “We welcome the decision to afford operational independence for chief fire officers, clarifying the responsibilities of Fire and Rescue Authorities with those of the former.”

The NFCC is “clear” that reform in the areas of the White Paper, alongside other areas of improvement in Fire and Rescue Services, requires long-term investment. “We will continue to work with Government and other national functions to make sure that Fire and Rescue Services, and their supporting national functions, are properly resourced to respond to the areas of reform.”

Concluding his statement, Hardingham opined: “Fire and Rescue Services must be prepared and equipped to deal with current and future challenges in all their myriad forms. Our aim will always be to meet the continued expectations and high levels of trust and confidence held by members of the public in their Fire and Rescue Service.”