There have been long standing allegations made against Avon fire and rescue authority in respect of its governance.
In June 2016, the chairman of Avon fire and rescue authority approached the Department requesting assistance with launching an inquiry into concerns raised by members of the authority. That request was subsequently withdrawn by the chairman. In August 2016, and again in October 2016, I asked the fire and rescue authority to commission a full investigation, independent of the authority, into the allegations but the chair and vice-chairs of the authority have made clear to me that they do not intend to commission such an investigation.
In light of this response, I have today commissioned a statutory inspection under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999 into Avon fire and rescue authority’s compliance with its duty to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way in which its functions in respect of governance are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The inspection will focus on the authority’s functions in respect of governance, including, but not limited to, the authority’s duties of accountability and assurance under the fire and rescue national framework.
I consider that the extent, seriousness and persistence of the allegations made against the authority, together with the alleged failures to properly deal with complaints, if well founded, would indicate that the authority is failing to comply with its duty to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement. Such allegations would suggest that the authority is unable to deliver economically, efficiently and effectively now or in the future. As a result, I consider that a statutory inspection is appropriate in this instance and is in the public interest. I should make it clear that I express no view about whether or not the allegations are well founded, as that is a matter which will now be considered by the inspection.
It is in the public interest to ensure that allegations of this seriousness are carefully considered by a suitably qualified person of impeccable standing. Dr Craig Baker will be appointed as the inspector. Dr Baker is an independent consultant who has advised public sector organisations for over 30 years in the UK and overseas.