There are currently 46 Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) across England. In Wales, there are now 3 FRSs (Wales South; Wales Mid and West; and Wales North) following mergers. Following a national merger in 2013, there is now a single Scottish FRS. Northern Ireland also has a single service structure.
The Chancellor’s Spending Review in 2010 has brought widespread cuts to public services, including Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs). By the end of the financial year 2014/15, FRAs will have seen a 22.5% reduction in central Government grant funding, equating to a cumulative cash cut of £236m.
Though precise proportions differ from one FRA to another, Fire and Rescue Authorities derive roughly half of their funding from the Revenue Support Grant (RSG), provided by central Government. The other half is largely generated through a council tax precept. FRAs have seen a year on year cut in their Revenue Support Grant since 2010. The Government have already announced that the RSG cut to FRAs will be 8.4% in the year 2015/16. This follows cuts of 7.6% and 7.5% in financial years 2013/14 and 2014/15 respectively.
Fire and Rescue Authorities face a sustained challenge to identify and deliver extensive efficiency savings whilst continuing to maintain a safe, professional and sustainable service.
Over the last four and a half years, FRAs have sought to implement a number of changes in operational models, ‘back office’ resources, and delivery in order to maintain safe response times, protect the frontline and meet a diverse array of risk profiles.
The current Government have made it the responsibility of each FRA to find the efficiencies and to implement the changes as they see fit.
The Government commissioned the Knight Review, published in June 2013, to look at potential options for greater efficiency savings. The report identified around £200m of savings across the 46 English FRSs. The Government have thus far failed to provide a substantial response to the ‘Facing the Future’ report and indeed were overdue in responding at all.
Sir Ken Knight’s report made a number of recommendations, including increased collaboration, co-responding and co-location with other emergency services, a review of the Grey Book, greater interoperability between Services, and a specific recommendation to increase the proportion of Retained Duty System firefighters by 10%, bringing them up to 40% of the frontline workforce across the country. The report concluded that 46 individual FRSs is not a sustainable delivery model, and encouraged Government to support local mergers.
It is widely accepted that many of Sir Ken’s recommendations can already be seen in operation across most FRSs. Concern across the Service is understandably high, given that the pattern of cuts is set to continue and many FRAs feel that there will soon be no option but to further reduce the number of frontline personnel and appliances. There has already been a 13% fall in whole-time firefighters and 7.4% fewer retained firefighters compared to 2009, amounting in England to nearly 5000 fewer firefighters. There has also been a 20% fall in the number of Home Fire Safety Checks since 2009. Many fear that this could result in increased emergency response times and the consequent increased risk of injuries and fatalities.
In tough times Labour knows we will have to make tough decisions in a tough financial environment. It is our belief that all options must be considered in order to ensure a Fire and Rescue Service which is safe, modern, and sustainable. We believe that, while continuing with community fire safety work, our foremost priority must be to free up resources where possible to protect the frontline. We must ensure that the Fire and Recuse Service has the necessary resilience to meet an array of emerging operational challenges and risks across the country.
We believe that the financial challenge we face demands leadership and responsibility from central Government. We want to work together with stakeholders and service users to understand the best means to protect and build a Fire and Rescue Service that is fit for the future.
We are therefore publishing this survey document to gather views and draw on the expertise of all those involved in the Service and beyond. We would be grateful if you could respond to the questions below. Please provide as much detail of evidence and experience as possible in your answers.
We kindly ask that all contributions are received by 2 March 2015.
Please provide responses either by email to email@example.com or by post to:
Lyn Brown MP
House of Commons