Security Minister outlines support structures in place for Fire and Rescue Services
24 April 2020
SECURITY MINISTER James Brokenshire has written to Roy Wilsher (chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council) and Cllr Ian Stevens (Wilsher's opposite number at the Fire Services Management Committee), in addition to all chief fire officers, in a bid to outline ways in which the Government is seeking to further support local Fire and Rescue Services "in this challenging period".
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh has been appointed as a joint Minister of State with responsibility for fire in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Home Office. Further to that appointment, Brokenshire (pictured) said: “We are both delighted that our responsibilities cover the Fire and Rescue Service. This essential and much-loved public service has a proud record in keeping the people of this country safe, and never more so than during the current Covid-19 emergency. We are grateful to all those working in the Fire and Rescue sector to ensure that essential functions are maintained and that the sector can support partner agencies as we tackle the crisis at hand.”
Brokenshire actively welcomes the agreement which the National Fire Chiefs Council has reached with employers and the unions to allow firefighters to provide support to the ambulance service, coroners and the vulnerable, and has moved to thank firefighters and staff for their incredible service and the often challenging roles they are stepping up to undertake.
The Security Minister commented: “Our officials are working closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council to ensure that Fire and Rescue Services have everything they need to carry out their critical role and to keep people safe. We have also asked our officials to identify those areas where we can temporarily reduce burdens on Fire and Rescue Services and Fire and Rescue Authorities such that you are all able to focus on the issue at hand. We have listened carefully to the issues that have been raised.”
Legislation has been enacted such that the requirement for annual council meetings, including those for Fire and Rescue Authorities, to take place has been removed. While essential council meetings should continue, these are able to take place remotely for a temporary period.
While Fire and Rescue Authorities must continue to have due regard to the National Framework, the Government appreciates that Fire and Rescue Services need to focus on maintaining essential services and supporting the wider COVID-19 effort. For this reason, the Government has wanted to make clear that, if a given Fire and Rescue Service’s annual assurance statement and/or IRMP are due to be prepared and published in the coming months, it's fully understood that there may be a delay in the publication during the current circumstances. On that note, Brokenshire observed: “We should be clear that this does not mean the Secretary of State would not take intervention action against a Fire and Rescue Authority for failing to have due regard to the framework during this period.”
The Secretary of State is due to make the biennial report to Parliament in July on the extent to which Fire and Rescue Authorities are acting in accordance with the National Framework. Previously, when preparing this report, the Government contacted all Fire and Rescue Authorities asking for confirmation of compliance. Brokenshire said: “We are confident that we will not need to do that this time, providing that all Fire and Rescue Authorities have published their previous annual statements of assurance, IRMPs and financial plans, and it's clear that they've been agreed by the Fire and Rescue Authority or the elected responsible member.
Focusing on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the Government is working closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council to ensure that Fire and Rescue Services have the PPE they need to carry out their duties. “The National Fire Chiefs Council has done some excellent work in this regard, has a supply chain in place and is monitoring stocks nationally to ensure that supplies are distributed where they're needed. We will continue to work extremely closely to ensure Fire and Rescue Services receive the equipment they need and when they need it in order to carry out their jobs safely.”
Testing for COVID-19
In terms of testing for COVID-19, the Government's top priority is patients in hospital to inform their clinical diagnosis, followed closely by NHS and social care workers having to self-isolate because either they, or a member of their household, exhibit symptoms. Brokenshire commented: “We now have the capacity to give every person in these categories a test who needs one. As a next step, we now also have the capacity to start to test other front line workers in England who are having to self-isolate because either they, or a member of their household, is showing symptoms of the virus. This includes firefighters. As is the case with NHS and social care workers, we want to find out if they have the virus and, if they don’t, they might be able to return to their important work.”
The Government has worked alongside HMRC and the latter has now issued new guidance to employers and employees to ensure retained staff are not ruled ineligible for the COVID-19 loss of earnings benefit due to their secondary on-call firefighter Contract of Employment. “The Fire and Rescue Service is playing a critical role during this unprecedented time and all staff should be able to access the Government support that's available,” concluded Brokenshire.