Raynsford defends fire reforms

By Nick RaynsfordMinister for the Fire and Rescue ServiceWE have recently published the White Paper Our Fire and Rescue Service, setting out our vision for the fire and rescue service in the 21st Century.

By Nick Raynsford

Minister for the Fire and Rescue Service

WE have recently published the White Paper Our Fire and Rescue Service, setting out our vision for the fire and rescue service in the 21st Century.

Increasing public safety and saving lives is at the heart of this radical programme of modernisation and reform. To do this greater emphasis has to be given to fire prevention - stopping fires occurring in the first place wherever possible. We also must ensure that all fire brigades are reviewing and anticipating risks to life and responding by deploying people and equipment in the right place, at the right time, protecting people where they live and work.

This involves identifying the range of risk to the community and planning the most effective way to respond. These assessments will be made locally. Fire Authorities are already beginning to prepare their Integrated Risk Management Plans, and will do so in consultation with local communities.

Local fire stations whether staffed by full-time or retained fire-fighters will continue to provide the core fire and rescue service as usual. But some functions will be better planned and delivered on a larger scale like anti-terrorist measures and the regional contingency planning framework.

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Equally there is scope for efficiency savings if training and procurement of equipment is done on a regional basis. Similarly, savings could also be achieved from regional control rooms. For example the cost of control rooms responding to each incident currently ranges from £168 in the smallest authority to £18 in the largest and most efficient.

So local fire authorities will be expected to work together in regional co-ordination groups. This is perfectly logical and there are plenty of examples of East Anglian fire authorities already doing this. Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk fire authorities currently collaborate on civil contingency and terrorist activity, specialist training and maintenance of personal and protective equipment (PPE). There are also plans to collaborate on retained fire-fighter training.

Where elected regional assemblies are set up we will establish regional fire authorities as in London. But there are no current proposals for an elected assembly to be set up in East Anglia. In East Anglia and other areas which are not opting for elected regional assemblies all that will happen is that we will require existing fire and rescue authorities to set up effective regional co-ordination arrangements (as outlined above).

Our vision is a modern fire and rescue service that helps save more lives and reduces injuries and fires. The White Paper puts forward a sensible programme of reform to deliver that vision.

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