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20.10.14

Winners of £75m fire transformation fund revealed

Fire and rescue authorities across England have been awarded a share of a £75m fund to help improve frontline services.

In total, 37 projects have been given money from the Fire Transformation Fund – announced last March by the DCLG – which is expected to save taxpayers over £300m.

Amongst the winning bids Surrey will lead a project with fire, police and ambulance services across Sussex and Surrey to deliver efficient emergency service transport functions. It has been awarded £5.96m and expects to deliver savings of £20m.

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Authority will work with county council services to re-locate library services in four Hertfordshire villages to on-call fire stations, with resultant joint-use rationalisation efficiencies. The authority was awarded £700,000 and is expected to deliver savings of £900,000to the public sector.

Peter Dartford, president of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), said: “The funding awards recognise the collaborative transformational approach that fire and rescue services are taking, both internally and in association with other emergency services and local authorities, to mitigate the effects of increasing financial pressures.

“Services have already seen cuts of up to 25% in the past four years, and yet are amongst the most successful public services in the country, driving down incidents by nearly a quarter and fire deaths by 12% between 2011-12 and 2013-14. The funding will help to facilitate further collaborative efforts, which will make an important contribution to meeting the challenges the fire and rescue service will face in the future.”

In May last year, an independent review by Sir Ken Knight, London’s former Fire Commissioner with over 40 years in the service, concluded that fire and rescue authorities need to transform themselves to reflect the entirely different era of risk and demand they now operate in.

The report stated that if above average authorities found ways to reduce their spending to the national average, then the money saved or reinvested could amount to nearly £200m per year.

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, chair of the Local Government Association's Fire Services Management Committee, said:  “The announcement today of the successful bidders to the £75m Fire Transformation Fund to 37 projects across the country is good news.

“From merging fire stations and headquarter buildings to developing a procurement hub, from relocating local libraries into on-call fire stations to using a web resource for the recruitment of on-call firefighters, these projects reflects the service's commitment to joint working with each other and the other blue light services in the interests of local communities.”

Fire minister Penny Mordaunt added that fire services have done an “amazing job” over the last few years in reducing demand on their emergency services; there are fewer fires and deaths.

“But this means the service needs to adapt – to meet new demands and to ensure it is working in the most efficient way. That’s why we’ve set up the Fire Transformation Fund,” she added. “One of the things that I found encouraging was the high number of bids looking to promote greater collaboration with other emergency services through sharing stations and services, sharing of back office functions, and joining up on service delivery. This is exactly the sort of innovation that is needed across the public sector and I look forward to seeing how these projects progress.”

The full list of winning bids is available here.

The Fire Brigades Union has previously argued that the Ken Knight report on the need for transformation is “flawed” and it rejects cuts to fire services. Its ‘Sounding the Alarm’ report earlier this year noted the support for collaboration at senior level across the three blue light emergency services and the government.

But the FBU said: “Remarkably, this statement was drawn up without consultation with the workforce – senior managers appear to believe they can speak for their services without having to discuss matters with those who actually carry out the work.

“The current government has made a £30m resource fund and a £45m capital fund to support ‘transformational’ change such as collaboration between blue light services and to deliver other ‘efficiencies’. Fire and rescue services including Surrey, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Cheshire, Cornwall and Northamptonshire, had bids for ‘blue light integration’ accepted as part of a local authority transformation fund. There are a number of local initiatives involving wider collaboration. For example, the Surrey Public Service Transformation Network involves Surrey police, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, Surrey County Council, the

South East Ambulance Service as well as Sussex police and both East Sussex and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services. Proposals on the table include a joint operational response and ‘joint contact, control and dispatch’.

“This could potentially create the same chaotic bidding and merger process we’ve seen in control, after the scrapping of the FiReControl project. Forced mergers of control rooms, in the north-west and south of England, with no geographical logic and which axe essential control staff, have already begun to alter the landscape of the service.”

(Image: c Darren Felon)

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