FIRE Comment February

State of play

‘Unjustifiable variation’ in the level of service the public receives and ‘toxic’ cultures may have hit the headlines following publication of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service report, State of Fire and Rescue – The Annual Assessment of Fire and Rescue Services in England (see pg 6) but ‘a bit of a mixed’ bag would be a fairer,
if less enticing hook.

It is the Fire Service responses and implications for the future that are more interesting and telling for this observer. Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack took umbrage at the accusation of undue influence of the union, accused of unduly dictating how some fire services are provided, according to Sir Thomas. The counterpoint is to say that there is a case to be made that it is a union’s business to be embroiled in the wider scene, political or otherwise. Just ask Rebecca Long-Bailey.


“Lest we forget that the Inspectorate’s essay on the state of fire is but a mirror; solutions are to be unfurled from behind the blanket of good grades and the odd outstanding”


Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, meanwhile, is perplexed about the aforementioned toxic culture, calling for stronger evidence-based research to understand if there really is a culture of bullying in a small number of services (see pg 8). If the first thematic from the new Inspectorate is to explore this territory it could provide a stark update to the thematic inspection on equality and diversity from the end of the last millennium. One suspects small pockets do not a monolithic backward-looking institution make. Indeed, several services have developed trailblazing initiatives on diversity and inclusion.

Otherwise Roy is keen to put the report in context with all the other recommendations pouring from the likes of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the upcoming spending review and the new building safety regime (see pg 47). Report recommendations that go unheeded and merely serve as a discarded reference for embittered reporters (see sector reports ad infinitum, most recently the largely ignored Thomas Review on conditions of service) is an unwelcome Fire Service tradition. Kudos therefore to the Asian Fire Service Association’s Smoke and Mirror report – an abject lesson in disrupting the cultural norms by morphing into a living document.

Lest we forget that the Inspectorate’s essay on the state of fire is but a mirror; solutions are to be unfurled from behind the blanket of good grades and the odd outstanding, whilst future thematics must surely come in two distinct realms. Diversity and fairness see 23 services requiring improvement whilst out in front in the failure stakes, leadership sees 33 services requiring improvement (see pg 18). It is no co-incidence that this issue features an exclusive focus on leadership development (see pg 21) as we seek to lend our support to help improve service delivery.

What good looks like has become a constant refrain in recent editions of FIRE as we investigate the winners from each tranche and dig around to discover how they got there. Services wishing to develop in the people pillar could do a lot worse than scour the Lancashire Focus from our FIRE April, 2019. As our correspondent concludes on pg 20: ‘What is good and how a service can get there will depend to some extent on learning from others and a mechanism for doing this would be a step in the right direction’. Indeed it would.

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