Government needs to urgently reform the fire service, says Chief Inspector

The Government needs to reform the fire sector as a matter of urgency, or else firefighters will not be able to provide the best possible service to the public, a new report has found.

In his first annual assessment of England’s fire and rescue services since being appointed in 2022, Andy Cooke, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services, found that:

  • only two of the inspectorate’s previous six recommendations for reform of the fire service have been implemented, which he described as extremely disappointing;
  • the Home Office, the Local Government Association, the National Fire Chiefs Council and trade unions should work together to consider reforming structures for negotiating pay, terms and conditions, which would reduce the risk of industrial action; and
  • many services need to improve their culture, and there are still some unacceptable levels of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services Andy Cooke said:

“I am continually struck by the dedication of firefighters and other staff, and I know the public feel the same – they are enormous assets to our communities.

“The fire service faces a difficult year ahead against the backdrop of industrial action. Some may see these challenges as a reason not to risk further change. On the contrary, reform of the fire service is still urgently needed – and until all our recommendations are addressed in full, fire and rescue services won’t be able to provide the best possible service to the public.

“I am frustrated at the lack of progress since we first started inspecting fire and rescue services in 2018. Only two of our six recommendations for national reform have been completed.

“I expect to see further commitments from the Government – including timescales for completion – very soon. Both the public and fire and rescue services deserve better.”

The inspectorate’s four remaining recommendations are:

  • the Home Office should precisely determine the role of fire and rescue services, to remove any ambiguity;
  • the sector should remove unjustifiable variation, including in how they define risk;
  • the sector should review how effectively pay and conditions are determined; and
  • the Home Office should invest chief fire officers with operational independence, whether through primary legislation or in some other manner.

The inspectorate confirmed earlier this week that it would produce a new report on values and culture in England’s fire and rescue services, which will be published later this year.

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