Commons Gate

The Fire Service

ODPM Committee 11 Nov 2003

Labour Party logo

Evidence presented by Sir Graham Meldrum CBE, HM Chief Inspector of Fire Services and Peter Morphew, HM Chief Senior Inspector of Fire Service, HM Fire Service Inspectorate; Robin Currie, Chief Executive, Fire Service College and Marie Winckler, Head Fire Service Effectiveness Division, ODPM, Fire Service College; Sir Jeremy Beecham, Chair LGA and Ken Knight, LGA advisor and Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning (London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority), Local Government Association; Martin Evans, Director of Audit Policy and Mollie Bickerstaff, Director of Fire Services, Audit Commission on 11 November 2003

Q252 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): As regards the improvements that you have referred to such as the reduction in fire deaths, can we measure which of those are due to building regulations, which are due to fire preventative measures and which are due to improvements and efficiency in the actual operation of the Service?

Mr Morphew: I do not think we can measure those individually yet. In totality that is what we are seeing; we are seeing the effect of community fire safety activity by brigades, the fitting of smoke detectors as a result of the investment in the National Community Fire Safety Centre built for educating the public about safety. We are seeing from the statutory effects of 30 years of legislation in buildings to which the public resort and where they work. All of those things coming together are having this overall effect.

Q253 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): So it could be that we are not actually putting fires out any more efficiently, any quicker or any more effectively; it is these other measures that are responsible for the reductions in fire deaths.

Mr Morphew: I think also there has been a lot of technological development which is getting us putting out fires more quickly.

Q254 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Can we measure this?

Mr Morphew: Not individually, no. Sometimes we can; we can measure the reverse effect more clearly where we are working in a socially deprived area and we can that maybe doors have been taken off rooms, maybe the smoke detector is not working because there is no battery in it or maybe there is no smoke detector. That is the way we are coming at it. We can see where the deficiencies are and that is where we are concentrating at the moment.


Q277 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Maybe I am missing something here, but is part of the programme of modernisation to do with the fact that we have a lot of fire personnel waiting around for fires to occur or emergencies to occur that they are going to attend, and the idea is to give them something else to do during that period, like the preventative work. If we are going to have separate people doing this how is that going to resolve that problem?

Mr Currie: That is not what I was trying to say. I was trying to say that the people we bring in to do the overall task will have a broader background and greater capabilities than they currently have from the previous recruiting system. Instead of everybody joining and spending so many years learning their craft as fire-fighters, they will come in at different phases and bring different skills, but they will still be part of the same operating team.

Q278 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I understood the Inspectorate to be saying that there is a case for having separate teams doing these separate tasks.

Sir Graham Meldrum: There is a case for bringing people in with particular skills at different levels within the Fire Service so that we are not saying that a job within the Fire Service is exclusive to an operational person. We have to see far more flexibility. People working, for instance, in our control rooms and have done excellent work in relation to community fire safety and equal opportunities within the Fire Service. It is looking beyond just saying that it must just be an operational person, but, as you rightly say, at the end of the day the bulk of the people available to us to do community fire safety work are the fire-fighters on fire stations. They are doing that of now, as we speak. The Fire Service has moved on and there is some excellent work up and down the land being done by operational fire fighters in relation to community fire safety.


Q289 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Sir Jeremy mentioned that Mr Cummings had missed out one possible party to the list he read out. On that basis, does Sir Jeremy regard the Government's intervention as helpful or unhelpful; wise or unwise; necessary or unnecessary? What lessons does he think can be learned for the future in these types of negotiations?

Sir Jeremy Beecham: Can I ask which intervention?

Q290 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Government's part.

Sir Jeremy Beecham: Overall?

Q291 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Yes. If you think the Government should have a part.

Sir Jeremy Beecham: It should certainly have a part. We pressed the Government over a year ago to move in order to create a new framework within which the Service could be developed. We needed new legislation and we suggested a year last July a commission to look into the pay issue because we were getting absolutely nowhere in terms of negotiations. Eventually, of course - as we now know - the Commission was established, the FBU declined to take part and matters then ran on. At one stage I think there was a temptation for some people to blame the Government for the breakdown. I do not think that was a reasonable interpretation. Since that time the Government's role has been entirely constructive and we welcome most of the provisions of the White Paper. There are areas where we perhaps have some disagreement or wish them to go further, but the Government is certainly now on the right lines and they are making available £32 million of transitional money to facilitate the process because the savings will not accrue immediately from some of the changes that are now being contemplated at local level.


Q322 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I would like you to say a bit more about the research and statistics that you are using to assess the current efficiency of the Fire Service and in particular what key indicators will you look for to see if the Service has become more efficient?

Ms Bickerstaff: I do not know whether my colleague would like to come in on that. We certainly have a long history of looking at efficiency. We have been auditors of the Fire Service for a very long time and there is a good deal that can be done on efficiency although one has to, as always, be careful with indicators. For example, we worked in Merseyside and you can say that it is the cheapest in that its cost per fire is very low but you can also say that it is the most expensive because it spends a great deal of money because it is a fully whole-time service.


Q325 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Which indicators do you expect to have improved in three years' time? If they have not, would you regard that as a measure of failure?

Mr Evans: The point about the performance indicators is that they need to be aligned with the objectives of the Service and obviously the White Paper is significantly changing the objectives of the Service and the ODPM is leading that review at the moment. As my colleague said, we are a consultee on that process along with other expert stakeholders. In the short term, through our verification process, we are going to look to assess progress by fire authorities in making the changes set out in the National Pay Agreement and in the White Paper. In the longer term we will be looking to pick up progress through the CPA process.

Q326 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): It all seems a bit woolly. In three years' time are we going to be able to actually measure whether improvements have come about?

Ms Bickerstaff: In three years' time we will - through all the work that we do with the fire authorities - look at how they decide to measure themselves. As Martin has said, different people will have different targets. We will expect to see improvements over that period. The easiest one to pick as an example for you is fire deaths. There are certain national targets on fire deaths. Individual fire authorities often set themselves even more demanding targets on bringing down fire deaths. Everyone, including ourselves, will look at performance against that and the other key indicators: indicators on arson, indicators on injury. You do not need me to tell you that the small numbers that are involved in fire deaths can sometimes produce blips on a local basis, but nationally it remains a very fine indicator.

Mr Evans: The first Comprehensive Performance Assessment of fire authorities which we are planning to undertake in 2005 will set a base line against which progress and improvement can be measured over time. Part of that Comprehensive Performance Assessment will be giving credit to - or accounting for - the current performance against BDDIs that are set by ODPM which comprise what we call corporate health indicators and specific Fire Service delivery indicators. We will be tracking performance over time and the outcome would be the overall assessment of that authority through the CPA process.

Select Committee Page | Return to Homepage

Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB