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Fire and Rescue Authorities: England

Volume 627: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2017

In May 2016, this Government set out plans to create an independent inspectorate for fire and rescue authorities in England as part of our fire reform programme.

The response to the recent tragic Grenfell Tower fire showcased the very best of fire and rescue services. As the dreadful event unfolded, we saw the resounding bravery and skill of our firefighters and emergency responders.

An inspectorate will help support the continuous improvement of this critical public service and enable fire and rescue authorities to become even more effective, as it is only by identifying and understanding problems that action can be taken to overcome them.

I can today announce that this inspectorate will form part of a newly expanded Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary (HMIC). In order to preserve fire and rescue’s distinct identity, HMIC will re-brand as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services.

I have recommended to Her Majesty that, following commencement of fire and rescue inspection provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, she appoint Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, as chief fire and rescue inspector, and for HMIC’s existing inspectors to be appointed fire and rescue inspectors. This will be in addition to their existing police inspection responsibilities.

A dedicated team will be appointed to carry out fire and rescue inspections which will include expertise drawn from the fire and rescue sector.

The new inspectorate will work alongside other institutional changes under way in the fire and rescue sector, namely the establishment of the National Fire Chiefs Council and the planned creation of a body with responsibility for setting professional standards for fire and rescue services.

HMIC has a strong track record in holding policing to the highest standards and identifying where action must be taken to improve behaviour and practice. I expect them to replicate this when inspecting fire and rescue authorities. This new inspectorate will provide a crucial assurance function to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of every authority in England and whether they are fulfilling their statutory obligations.

My officials, together with representatives from the fire and rescue sector, will work with the inspectorate over the coming months to develop a comprehensive inspection framework against which fire and rescue authorities will be inspected. The Secretary of State is required to agree both the inspection framework and programme. The first inspection will take place in early 2018 and every fire and rescue authority in England will be inspected thereafter with a report published on every inspection.

The provisions made by the Policing and Crime Act 2017 require the chief fire and rescue inspector for England to lay before Parliament an annual report on the inspections undertaken. This will include his assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of fire and rescue authorities in England for the period in respect of which the report is prepared. The Home Secretary also has the ability to commission the inspectorate to inspect and report on any particular issue in addition to individual authority inspections.