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The Scottish Fire Service of The Future

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SECTION 1 - THE DRIVERS FOR CHANGE

Background

5. The need for a fire-fighting service has existed since early history but it was only through the Fire Brigades Act of 1938 that a centrally co-ordinated service was put in place in Great Britain. That Act made it mandatory for local authorities to make arrangements for an effective fire service and at that time there were 185 fire brigades in Scotland. In 1941, as a consequence of the war, a National Fire Service was created that remained in place until the introduction of the Fire Services Act in 1947, which returned the service to the control of local authorities. The number of brigades has since been more or less modified in line with successive local government reorganisations. However, following the introduction of single tier local authorities in 1996, the then existing structure of brigades was retained by creating additional joint boards. Currently, Scotland has eight brigades only two of which remain under unitary control, the other six coming under joint boards of between three to 12 constituent councils depending on the size of the area concerned.

Development

6. However, as it enters the 21st century, the fire service is subject to a number of key drivers for change. These six key drivers for change are detailed below.

7. First, is the emergence of Community Fire Safety as a main focus 1 and a strong fire prevention ethos. This is complemented by an ongoing review of fire cover. In the wider context, there is an increasing awareness of the changing environment in terms of social, economic and climatic developments. The fire service, as an emergency service, is continually adapting its role and responsibility to deal with, for example, road accidents, severe weather and flooding. All of this is underpinned by the need to organise and develop the fire service and its people to best deliver a modern, effective and professional service.

8. Secondly, the legislative basis for the fire service needs review. As it stands today, the Fire Services Act 1947 sets out the duties of local authorities in terms of the service they should provide and couches these in terms of "efficient arrangements". Central government has therefore taken a role in the development of national standards.

9. A second Fire Services Act in 1959 made some further changes and it was at this time that fire service conditions of service became matters for individual fire authorities and subsequently the National Joint Council for Local Authorities Fire Brigades, rather than Ministers. The Executive recognises that as a third driver the key to strong quality local services remains a shared sense of direction amongst those who work within the fire service and those who are responsible for it and a commitment to equal opportunities.

10. The fourth driver is partnership. The performance of brigades is monitored by HM Chief Inspector of Fire Services, appointed by Scottish Ministers. Policy is kept under review through national consultative arrangements, involving a range of interests including the Scottish Executive and local authorities and also professional and staff associations. This approach cements a relationship between central and local government and staff, which remains at the heart of current thinking. The Scottish Executive wishes to enhance the role of the authorities and strengthen community safety planning.

11. The fifth driver is the Executive's commitment to a modernising agenda and the requirement to deliver a value-for-money service. In terms of Best Value this means that the service needs to be committed to the key principles of accountability, transparency, continuous improvement and ownership. It must ensure that all activities are subject to the "4Cs" (challenge, compare, consult and compete) and focused on a public performance reporting framework within which targets can be set and the delivery of performance measured.

12. In addition to the requirement under the Fire Services Act 1947 to provide fire safety advice when requested, there are other legislative responsibilities vested in fire authorities. In the main these also relate to fire safety through their responsibility to enforce the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and more recently the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997. It is generally accepted that fire safety legislation can in the main be categorised as "stable door" legislation, with much of it emanating from a particular incident.

13. Although it is accepted that this legislation has stood the test of time fairly well, it is also acknowledged that it requires overhaul to better reflect the changing role of the modern day fire service. Examples of the changes envisaged occur throughout this Policy Paper but the list is not exhaustive and the Executive is open to suggestions on further changes required to the legislation. The issue is not one, however, simply of legislation. Developments in building technologies will increasingly shape the safety of our future society. Changes in the built and natural environment are a powerful sixth driver in the future strategy.

Public Service Framework

14. It is the stated aim of the Scottish Executive through its Modernising Government Agenda to provide public services, which are responsive to peoples' needs, are efficient and of high quality and make full use of modern technology.

15. The Executive also recognises that there is significant scope for more public/private sector partnerships. Constraints exist within both the private and public sectors around these arrangements. Taking forward this sort of partnership in Scotland involves ensuring that there are safeguards for the public and staff interests and overall transparency in the process.

16. Partnership is at the heart of the Scottish Executive's approach to modernising public services. The Scottish fire service enjoys a positive public image and is regarded as a consistently good performer. 2 The Emergency Services in general have a long track record of co-operation at an operational level in responding to incidents. The task now is to replicate this success at a strategic level. This calls for a full and informed examination of how such co-operation and collaboration can improve delivery embracing contingency planning, use of information technology, procurement, vehicle maintenance, communications and control, and training.

17. The fire service equally has an important part to play in the development of local partnerships to address some of the most significant issues facing society such as community safety, health, housing and the environment.

18. Best Value is a key Executive policy aimed at driving up standards in public service delivery. The fire service has been working to deliver a public service which is open, accountable and meets the needs of the local communities in which it operates. The proposed Local Government Bill for Scotland will, for the first time, introduce a statutory duty in respect of Best Value for local authorities including Fire Authorities. Although, the Scottish fire brigades took fully on board the Best Value approach in April 1999, this legislative change should serve to give stronger impetus to the work. Such changes in the Statutory Duties of Fire Authorities will inevitably require a legislative change to the duties of Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate in Scotland.

19. It is recognised that change in the environment such as global warming, are in turn leading to different demands on the fire service. In particular climatic changes, which have resulted in severe storms and widespread flooding across the UK, have had a significant impact on the demands on the fire service.

20. All of this sets out the clear need to challenge the culture and role of the fire service as it stands. More than ever we need to ensure that we achieve the correct balance between the successes of the past and the demands of the future. We need to ask whether or not in its present state the fire service is ready to successfully respond to this challenging agenda?