Mike O’Brien, Home Office Minister, has challenged fire services to modernise and do better. It costs 20 pounds per head to provide fire cover in Hampshire, but up to 25 per cent more in some other areas. There are also wide variations in performance between different fire services. The Audit Commission found that there were no consistent links between spending and improved services.
Fire services, in common with other local services, will be subject to the Best Value legislation which is now progressing through Parliament. A working group, led by the Home Office, is preparing guidance on best practice in responding to the legal requirements, which are due to come into force in April 2000. The group plan to produce their findings in the late summer.
Training will play a crucial role in taking Best Value forward, but the Fire Service College is beset with financial and other problems. A Review Team, headed by Vicki Harris, former Head of the Fire Safety Unit in the Home Office, has been set up. Its remit is to produce options for change by the summer.