Headlines: January 12th, 2006

Some English Fire and Rescue Authorities need to make faster progress toward modernisation according to an independent report today from the Audit Commission. It says, too, that local government can play its part by making sure councillors appointed to the authorities have the skills to provide leadership.The report, “Comprehensive Performance Assessment – Learning from CPA for the Fire and Rescue Service in England 2005”, draws on the findings of individual corporate assessments for the 47 authorities and a survey of chief fire officers and authority chairs. It says the authorities are working towards modernisation but that the pace of change varies substantially between them.

Only 47 per cent of the Fire and Rescue Authorities are categorised overall as good or excellent and the Commission says that progress towards providing effective, efficient and community focused services fit for the 21st century could be more quickly achieved by some FRAs. The Chief Executive of the Commission Steve Bundred, said, “Fire and rescue authorities are changing and they must increase the momentum of progress towards modernisation. We have identified obstacles to improvement, particularly in performance management and capacity. Fire authorities can accelerate the pace of change by addressing areas such as leadership, diversity and working conditions and practices.”

The CPA looked at how the service works within the community to make it safer and prevent fires. As well as fire prevention and education, the reviews included staff training, rates of sickness, team leadership and how well budgets were managed. The process did not measure how well FRAs respond to emergencies or other incidents.

Today’s report says local government can have a role in speeding modernisation by ensuring that councillors appointed to authorities have the skills needed to provide strategic leadership. It also calls on the government to take note of the patterns of performance that have emerged through the CPA process and to consider exploring the findings further.

Overall, London and the six metropolitan Fire and Rescue Authorities perform best with 67 per cent of them rated as good or excellent. The 24 combined FRAs also perform well with half of them in the top two categories. The 16 county authorities, which tend to serve smaller communities with fewer staff and smaller budgets, do less well with only a third of them rated as good or excellent.

The survey of Chief Fire Officers and authority chairs found that nine out of ten CFOs saw the CPA process as a driver for change and the majority of them would go through the process again, even if it was not compulsory.

The Commission is launching a web-based improvement tool containing information on good practice and offering access to examples of the progress being made by some authorities.