PART B - FIRE AND RESCUE
11. SCRUTINISING THE SCOTTISH FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE - AUDIT, INSPECTION AND COMPLAINTS
Current Arrangements - Scrutiny and Inspection
11.1. Long-standing scrutiny arrangements have their origin in the appointment of Inspectors with scrutiny powers in the Fire Services Act 1947. The Chief Inspector of Fire Services for Scotland inspected Fire and Rescue Services (then Fire Brigades), and presented an annual report based upon the inspections.
11.2. In 2002 Professor Sir George Bain's report the "Independent Review of Fire Services" made wide recommendations for implementation of reform including roles, modernisation, management structures, pay and conditions. One of the outcomes of Bain was the cessation of routine scrutiny of the FRS in Great Britain.
11.3. At the time of Professor Crerar's review of external scrutiny in 2007, routine scrutiny of the FRS had therefore ceased. To reflect this cessation, the Fire Service Inspectorate in Scotland was re-engineered and rebranded in 2008 to become the Scottish Fire and Rescue Advisory Unit ( SFRAU) with an enhanced advisory role.
11.4. The Accounts Commission has authority to audit fire and rescue services to ensure they are meeting their duty of Best Value and has also undertaken some audit work on FRS modernisation. This authority is discharged through Audit Scotland. Some of this scrutiny work was in collaboration with the Fire Service Inspectorate. Audit Scotland is clear that it does not have the competence to scrutinise operational activity or technical issues within the sector. The current relationship with SFRAU is one whereby the Chief Inspector is involved in the quality assurance of the audit reports and Audit Scotland staff can draw on the knowledge and expertise of SFRAU staff as part of the audit risk assessment and scoping process.
11.5. In 2008/09, to fill a perceived gap in FRS scrutiny, and with the agreement of the Scottish FRSs, SFRAU led an external scrutiny review of each FRS in Scotland. The review was generally positive about the provision of service delivery. However weaknesses were evident in self-assessment, internal audit and review, and performance management.
The role and powers of SFRAU
11.6. SFRAU provides professional advice to Ministers. The Head of the Unit holds appointment as Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Authorities ( CIFRA) as defined in Section 43 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.
11.7. Section 43 provides for the appointment of a Chief Inspector, Inspectors and Assistant Inspectors. These post-holders are 'non-ministerial office holders within the Scottish Administration' and have an independent role. The Chief Inspector is appointed by Her Majesty by Order in Council (the present incumbent also carries a Royal Warrant).
Current arrangements - Complaints
11.8. Each Service has its own complaints procedure. All aim to resolve a complaint as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible level. All have escalation routes should a complainant be dissatisfied with the original decision. Once the local processes have been exhausted, a complainant has the right to complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
Scottish Government proposals
11.9. As part of a move to a single fire and rescue service we propose that SFRAU is given an external scrutiny and audit role. An independent professional challenge will give Ministers reassurance of effective and efficient service delivery during a time of change and competing priorities and will provide for a proportionate and risk based examination of the Service. With a similar role to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland ( HMICS) with respect to scrutiny, SFRAU will do this through inspections, themed or otherwise. Whilst Ministers can call on SFRAU to undertake formal inspections and other pieces of work, it would also be able to operate independently of Government, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Board.
11.10. In line with this, we envisage the following scrutiny arrangement for the new service:
- CIFRA will be charged with an independent, external scrutiny role of the new single fire and rescue service;
- CIFRA will remain independent in the operation of the scrutiny function;
- The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will be subject to proportionate and risk-based external scrutiny with an appropriate level of regulation and scrutiny by CIFRA, using the resources available to SFRAU;
- a complementary scrutiny relationship between SFRAU, Audit Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Scottish Government and wider stakeholders to avoid duplication and promote joint working and co-operation;
- Develop a co-operative scrutiny relationship between SFRAU and HMICS (and other scrutiny bodies where appropriate) to avoid duplication and reduce burdens on those subject to scrutiny, which will be in line with the approach led by the Accounts Commission in relation to scrutiny following the Crerar Review; and
- existing scrutiny powers in the 2005 Act will be amended to allow for a more modern, proportionate and flexible approach to scrutiny.
11.11. It is important that any fire and rescue complaints system follows the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman's principles and procedures for handling complaints.
11.12. There will be a legislative requirement on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to establish a procedure by which a person, or someone acting on a person's behalf, may make complaints. The Scottish Government will expect the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to introduce an internal complaints process which meets these principles. The SPSO will retain responsibility for overseeing how complaints are handled, as at present. Where the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service believes a complaint would be better considered by an independent individual or body, the Service will approach SFRAU to identify and nominate an appropriate person or organisation to take this forward.
Question 20: What are your views on our proposals for inspection and audit?
Question 21: What are your views on our proposals for handling complaints?