May: Fire service must become more accountable

The government is to bring forward plans to tighten up the inspection of fire and rescue service in England, home secretary Theresa May has said.

In a 24 May speech at the liberal think tank Reform, May said that the fire service has “succeeded in spite of the framework in operates in, not because of it”.

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She said that the fire service has poor governance, a lack of diversity and little transparency. In particular, she was critical of the service’s review procedures, saying that there was no independent inspectorate, no regular performance audits and limited date on performance.

The current system of review by peers, she said, “provides no assurance whatsoever to the public” because it allows chief fire officers to set their own terms of reference, pick their own reviewer and decide whether or not to publish the results.

“It is not so much marking your own homework as setting your own exam paper and resolving that you’ve passed – and it has to change,” she said.

May said that she would table an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill shortly, to strengthen the inspection powers set out in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.

This, she said, would “put beyond doubt” the power of fire inspectors to access information and ensure government has the power to commission inspections of specific issues or services.

In order to increase accountability and public scrutiny, May also said that fire and rescue information would be published so services could be compared on performance, value for money and diversity.

“And if anyone doubts the public appetite for this information, just look at the success of, which now receives 450,000 unique visits each month from interested members of the public,” she said.

In addition, May emphasised the need for the service to make savings, saying that individual fire services needed to work more closely with both other local services as well as other fire services.

In an effort to encourage services to pool their purchasing powers and buy equipment collectively, she said that all procurement data would be published so services could compare their spending on common items like uniform and vehicles.


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