Home Secretary Theresa May – a radical programme of fire and rescue reform

27 May 2016

In the fifteen years since the Home Office last oversaw fire and rescue services, the number of fires in England has reduced by nearly two thirds and deaths from fire have fallen by almost half. By embracing prevention over response and by developing a deep understanding of the needs of and risk to the communities they serve, fire and rescue services have made great strides in reducing the threat of fire.

But as impressive as these achievements are, there remains much more to do. Families, businesses and property in this country remain at risk of fire. Last year there were more than 150,000 fire incidents in England. A total of 263 people lost their lives to fire and around 7,500 more were injured. The insurance industry tell us that fire costs industry hundreds of millions a year, and we know that many businesses never recover from the ashes. These are not statistics we can or should ignore.

Over the course of this Parliament I intend to deliver a programme of reform in the fire and rescue service that is as radical and ambitious as I have delivered in policing since 2010. Because in fire and rescue, I see a service that has succeeded in spite of the framework it operates in, not because of it. A fire and rescue landscape still beset by poor governance and structures, with a workforce lacking diversity and practices that are still bound by many of the old ways of working.

We will bring forward proposals to introduce a rigorous and independent inspection regime of fire and rescue services. We will challenge forces to improve the diversity of firefighters who are currently 96 per cent white and 95 per cent male. We will encourage greater collaboration between the emergency services by introducing a duty to collaborate through the Policing and Crime Bill and encourage collective purchasing by publishing what each area currently pays for common items, like uniforms to vehicles.

We are also legislating to give Police and Crime Commissioners the ability to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made. Because the current governance in fire and rescue bears all the hallmarks of the flawed police authorities I abolished in 2012 and lacks the democratic mandate of directly elected individuals who held to account at the ballot box.

These reforms will make fire and rescue more accountable, more effective and more professional than ever before. I am not going to pretend that reform in fire and rescue will be easy or straightforward. Meaningful and lasting reform never is. But with fire and rescue in the Home Office and with – I sense – a real appetite for change, I believe now is the time to deliver the change that is needed.

I am delighted that Reform has recognised the importance of this work and look forward to their insight into how fire and rescue services can transform for the future.

Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary

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