Leading the fire sector: member development support

The LGA’s range of fire and rescue authority member development resources helps elected members develop into capable and confident local leaders.

Previously the LGA ran a variety of face-to-face development programmes, including Leadership Essentials for fire and rescue, Diversity and Inclusion workshops and Oversight of performance workshops. The LGA continues to support fire and rescue authority members to develop with leadership skills despite the current pandemic and have refocused our activity to bring together already available resources and to develop new online content to support elected members. 

Induction for fire and rescue authority members

Fire authority members guide: this guide acts as a brief induction to the fire sector and new members or those wishing to remind themselves of the national environment should find this document helpful.

Oversight of performance and governance of fire and rescue authorities

Leading the fire sector – Oversight of fire and rescue service performance: this guide provides members with the knowledge and key skills required to fulfil their role as members scrutinising performance and challenging services to improve by applying the principles of good governance.

Leadership Essentials: Leading the Fire Sector

Following from the Leading the Fire Sector guide, the LGA has developed a Webinar series to look at a range of issues related to governance in the fire and rescue sector in England. These online training and development resources aim to ensure Members of Fire and Rescue Authorities are supported to deliver their governance responsibilities. For a copy of the presentation slides, please email Jordanne.McKenzie-Blythe@local.gov.uk.

Video transcript

Andy Fry: Hello. My name is Andy Fry and, on behalf of all my colleagues at the LGA, I'd like to, firstly, welcome you to this webinar and, secondly, to thank you very much for making the time to watch it. This is the first in a series of online training resources that the LGA will be making available that's focused on the role of FRA members. This particular session looks at their role from a fairly general high level perspective on the basis that it's primarily aimed at supporting the induction of elected representatives who are new to the Fire and Rescue sector. Having said that, we hope that it provides a useful refresher for more experienced FRA members. In the months ahead, the LGA will be publishing a series of further webinars to complement this high level overview, which will focus specifically on particular aspects of an FRA member's role, on which we're only going to touch fairly briefly during this session. So, what are we going to cover? Well, the purpose of the webinar is to provide an overview of the English Fire and Rescue sector and the role of FRA members within it. The content divides into two parts, with the first looking at the set up and role of FRAs in England. We're going to have a look at different governance models that are in place, the primary governance responsibilities that are shared by all FRAs, regardless of their governance model, the employment responsibilities that the authorities have, before looking at the really important role of senior officers in supporting the work of their FRA member colleagues in discharging their responsibilities. We're then gonna move into a second part, which shifts the focus onto looking at how FRAs discharge key aspects of their governance role.

We'll look at the legislative landscape that influences their work, the national policy framework that's in place, to which they must have regard, budget-setting arrangements, and then we're going to finish by having a fairly quick look at the mechanisms that are available to FRA members for, firstly, securing performance assurance about their Fire and Rescue service and, secondly, promoting continuous improvement. Before we move into the detail, I'll just signpost you to this document, leading the fire sector, readily available on the LGA website, and this is the source document for much of what we're going to cover during this session. So, if you want to read into the information in more detail, then this is potentially a really useful resource for you. The 45 Fire and Rescue Authorities in England all share a common responsibility for overseeing a Fire and Rescue Service. However, depending on local circumstances, the governance models will differ and, at the moment, there are six principal FRA governance models in place. In fourteen areas, we've got what are referred to as county council or unitary FRA models. These exist where a Fire and Rescue Service shares its boundary with a single upper-tier local authority. In these areas, Fire and Rescue is an integral part of the council and operates alongside other local government services such as
education, social care, transport planning, waste management, trading standards and so on. In twenty areas that are non-metropolitan and where the Fire and Rescue Service shares its boundary with more than one upper-tier local authority, you'll find combined Fire and Rescue Authorities.

These authorities are comprised of elected members who were appointed from the constituent local authorities with numbers of councillors from each being determined by relative population size. Similarly, in metropolitan areas where, again, a Fire and Rescue Service shares its boundary with more than one local authority, metropolitan Fire and Rescue Authorities will be in place and, as with combined FRAs, members will be appointed from the constituent authorities on the basis of relative population size. Now, in two areas of England, there are mayoral Fire and Rescue Authorities in place. Both are led by the mayors but the detail of how they operate differs slightly in that in London, the mayor sets the strategic direction and the budget for the authority but the Fire Commissioner is actually the Fire and Rescue Authority and they are held to account by a Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee. Arrangements are somewhat different in Manchester, where the mayor is him or herself in the role of Fire and Rescue Authority and is supported in that endeavour on a day-to-day basis by a Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire. Then, finally, there are four areas where a Police and Crime Commissioner has had governance responsibility for a Fire and Rescue Service transferred to them from a former FRA, making them a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, having persuaded the Home Secretary that such a transfer of governance responsibility would have material benefits, from the perspective of economy, efficiency, effectiveness or public safety.

Now, regardless of the governance model, as I've said, all FRAs share a responsibility for overseeing the work of a Fire and Rescue service, and they have a lot to do in that respect, but if you were going to group almost all of the activity in which FRA members get involved under three headline responsibilities, I think these would be those responsibilities. Firstly, the determine a strategic policy agenda for their Fire and Rescue Service. Then they set a budget to fund delivery of that policy agenda and, finally, they undertake scrutiny to make absolutely sure that intended outcomes are being achieved efficiently, effectively and in accordance with statutory requirements. Now, as elected laypeople, it's important that in that endeavour FRA members have the support that they need, and in all FRAs, this comes in the shape of three Statutory Officers. The first is a Head of Paid Service, who is the principal advisor to the authority on operational matters. Secondly, there is a Chief Finance Officer, who, as the title suggests, advises the authority on financial matters and ensures the appropriate stewardship of the public funds that the FRA invest in delivering services, etc. and then finally there's a Monitoring Officer, who ensures the authority is operating legally and also oversees the code of conduct for elected members on the Fire and Rescue Authority. So, you'll find those three Statutory Officers supporting all FRAs in the case of county council or unitary Fire and Rescue Authorities, where it's a statutory requirement for the authority to have an overview and scrutiny committee in place.

You'll also find a Designated Scrutiny Officer, whose job it is to, firstly, support the work of the overview and scrutiny committee and, secondly, to promote the importance of the work that they do. Now, the authority have got a really important political leadership role to play. They get professional and expert support from their Statutory Officers. That then leads to the important question of who does the work on delivering their policy agenda? And the answer to that question is employees who are members of staff in Fire and Rescue Services. So, FRAs are employing authorities. There's the political body corporate at the top and there's all the delivery capacity. They employ staff to do the work that's necessary for the people who elect FRA members. Now, in general terms, the staff who work within Fire and Rescue Services can be divided into either Service Delivery Staff, who deliver front-line services, or Service Support Staff, who are professionals that support the delivery of those front-line services. There's a further subdivision that you can make, depending on whether or not staff are required as part of their core role to respond to emergencies. If they are, they're often described as Operational Staff and, if not, Non-Operational Staff. Now, whilst there are some similarities in their terms of employment, Non-Operational versus Operational Staff do operate under different conditions of service and there is also a difference in pension arrangements in that for Operational Staff, the Fire and Rescue Authority is responsible for administrating the pension scheme as scheme managers supported by a pension board.

That's not the case for Non-Operational Staff, who are members of the local government pension scheme that's administrated independently of FRAs. So, there we have the political leadership at the top of the model, the organisation capacity that sits within the Fire and Rescue Service, the people that they employ. That leads to the question of how you connect the two. How do you connect the political leadership provided by the Fire Authority with the organisation capacity that exists within the Fire and Rescue Service? And the answer to that question sits in the quality of the relationship between senior officers and FRA members and the role that they have in supporting their political colleagues. Let me try and explain. So, as I've said, there's the political leadership on the Fire Authority, the organisation capacity within the Fire and Rescue Service, and in the centre, at the interface between the two, is the professional leadership provided by senior officers, and in the representative democracy model, to which FRAs operate, the professional leadership use their experience and expertise to provide professional advice and information to elected members so that they can take policy decision, set budgets and scrutinise performance from as well-informed a position as possible. Having considered that advice, they then take strategic decisions, which, based on the constitution of the Fire and Rescue Authority, they are required to take.

The baton then passes to the senior officers, who lead on implementation of the Fire Authority's policy agenda, and the work that they do in that respect is enabled by something called a scheme of delegation, which transfers legal responsibility for aspects of the Fire Authority's role to officers who can then get on with delivering the policy agenda. So, the officers begin leading implementation of the Fire Authority's policy agenda. They gather intelligence on how effective that is being at achieving the outcomes that've been decided as being most important, and then they feed back that intelligence, again, in the form of professional advice and information so the authority can decide whether they want to continue in the direction that they previously set or whether it's necessary for them to adjust the direction to respond to circumstances that are existing in the world as it actually is, and then we begin to move round the cycle again. So, it is a cyclical process, which, if done well, will lead to continuous improvement in the way that those governments' arrangements work. I can't overemphasise how important that relationship between senior officers and Fire Authority members is, and I would characterise it as a professional partnership that must include openness, honesty, mutual respect and high levels of trust. So, let's have a recap
before we move from part one to part two.

We've now had a look at the set up and role of Fire and Rescue Authorities in England. We're now going to move into the second part, which shifts that focus away from how authorities are set up to how they go about discharging key aspects of their governance role, and you'll remember that I mentioned three headline responsibilities that all FRAs had. Let's start with the first of these, which is determining the strategic policy agenda for the Fire and Rescue Service, and I want to spend a few minutes looking at the, the operating context, the environment, within which FRA members set the important policy agenda for their Fire and Rescue Service, and I'm gonna start by looking at the legislative landscape. Now, like all public bodies, Fire and Rescue Authorities are required to comply with a whole range of legislation but there are some aspects of the legislative landscape that are particularly important to Fire and Rescue Authorities and it's those on which I want to concentrate for the next few minutes. There are six, and there they are. The first is the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. This is the principal piece of legislation on which FRAs operate. The act comprises of seven parts. It's readily available online, so you're probably relieved to hear that I don't intend to go through all seven parts in detail. I do have-, I wanna come back and touch on part three in a few minutes but, before doing that, I'd like to say a little about what the act says regarding the functions of Fire and Rescue Authorities, and these are divided into core, must-do functions and other functions, about which there's a degree of choice.

As far as the must-do, core functions, the duties that FRAs have under the act, they first of all need to promote fire safety, which is really about preventing fires from happening, if you can, and making sure people know what to do when fires do start. With the best prevention work in the world, you're still going to end up with fires occurring and, when they do, you need well-equipped, well-trained firefighters responding quickly and protecting life and property as well as extinguishing the fire. There's a requirement for Fire and Rescue Authorities to minimise the damage that's being done to property arising from firefighting operations and a further requirement for Fire and Rescue Services to have the ability to respond effectively to road traffic collisions. Beside those specific core functions, there's a rather more general function that talks about dealing with other types of emergency, and these are emergencies that've been specified by the Secretary of State through passing a statutory order. At the moment, there is only one order been placed and that requires Fire and Rescue Services to have the capability to deal with three types of incidents. CBRN, as it's known, collapsed buildings, requiring urban search and rescue capability, and emergencies involving trains, trams or aircraft, so these are major transport incidents involving transport systems that have the potential to carry a lot of people. Beyond those core functions, which authorities must do, they have powers to do other things, and these divide into two types of other functions.

The first is to deal with other eventualities, so these are eventual, eventual situations that specifically threaten life and or the environment, and here we're talking about things like flood response and water rescue alongside ambulance service colleagues responding to life-threatening medical emergencies and, in a country of animal lovers, rendering what we call rendering humanitarian services, which often involves live animal rescue, and there we have a very happy swan in the hands of a very-, an equally happy firefighter. As well as those other eventualities, FRAs have a huge amount of flexibility to deliver other services if they think it's appropriate for them to do so, and what we've seen since the Fire and Rescue
Services Act was introduced, there's been Fire Authorities using this power to contribute to an increasingly broad community safety, health and well-being agenda that goes way beyond their core traditional statutory role. Helping older people to live independent, happy lives for longer, improving the health and well-being of local communities, and also raising the aspiration of young people through firefighters operating as role models to them. So, there is a huge amount of flexibility in terms of what Fire and Rescue Authorities can do beyond what they must do in the Fire and Rescue Services Act, so there's the ability to really tailor your offer to your local communities. Second piece of legislation is the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order. This is the regulation that controls fire safety standards in almost all buildings.

The primary focus is on workplaces but it does cover all buildings with a number of exceptions, in particular, single private dwellings, so people's homes are excluded from the order. Having said that, common areas such as corridors and common staircases are included but people's homes themselves excluded from the order. It's what's described as a self-compliant regime, which means that the people who are responsible for managing a building should, as part of that, be responsible for managing fire safety standards. The role of the FRA is, therefore, to regulate that system to make sure that things are as they should be, and they do that through Fire Service officers carrying out a risk-based inspection programme, identifying which buildings present the greatest risk and going out to audit arrangements and make sure that they are as they should be. Now, that's how the Fire Safety Order is set up at the moment but it is certainly going to change as a result of the tragic events that unfolded in June 2017 in West London. Since the Grenfell fire occurred, there's been a number of very significant pieces of work done that, in combination, have concluded that the system which should ensure fire safety standards are as they should be in people's homes is broken and not fit for purpose, and there will be a long list of changes that result from Grenfell, one of which will be amendments to the Fire Safety Order. The UK government is committed to strengthening the order, and as this webinar was produced, it was just finishing a consultation on what that strengthening process might look like.

Third piece of legislation I want to touch on is the Policing and Crime Act, important in that it introduced a statutory requirement for the blue light services to collaborate in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. It also introduced that route that enabled Police and Crime Commissioners to be directly involved in the governance of Fire and Rescue Services, either by becoming a Fire and Rescue Authority or by becoming a voting member on an existing Fire and Rescue Authority, having sought and secured agreement from that authority that they can fulfil that role. The Crime and Disorder Act is a piece of legislation you'll be very familiar with if you've operated in local government for any period of time. FRAs are designated as responsible authorities. They're required to work alongside a whole range of other organisations on community safety partnerships and share a statutory responsibility to collectively reduce crime and disorder, substance misuse and reoffending rates in that local authority area, and, in doing so, they must have regard to the PCC's local Police and Crime Plan. The Civil Contingencies Act is the legislation under which organisations work together to plan for major emergencies. Under the act, FRAs are designated as Category 1 Responders, organisations that have a leading role in dealing with a major emergency and, as Cat 1 responders, they have to assess risk, put in place emergency plans, have arrangements in place to ensure that they can continue to deliver their day-to-day business when they are either responding to or being affected by a major emergency.

They have to make information available and warn the public about things that can happen, inform them when they do and advise them on actions that they should take, and then, finally, in the interests of cooperation, Category 1 responders are required to share information with other responders. And then finally I just want to say a couple of words about the Health and Safety at Work Act. Now, this is one of those pieces of legislation that applies to all organisations. However, because of the nature of work that front-line firefighters do, its hazardous nature, in particular, health and safety takes on a particular prominence in the Fire and Rescue sector and, as a result of that, you'll see significant resources in your health and safety departments and also a very high level of expertise within those departments. Necessary, bearing in mind the work that your staff do on the front-line. Now, as well as having to take into consideration the legislative framework that's in place, Fire and Rescue Authorities also need to consider a national policy framework when they're setting direction for their organisation, and I did mention earlier that this was highlighted in part three of the Fire and Rescue Services Act. Well, why is this the case? What's the national policy framework got to do with local Fire and Rescue Authorities that are primarily responsible for delivery of local Fire and Rescue Services?

Well, that's true but Central Government does have a legitimate stake in what FRAs do, firstly because the Fire and Rescue Service is clearly a crucial public service and, secondly, because local Fire and Rescue Services come together with other Fire and Rescue Services to contribute to national resilience to provide large amounts of capacity when major emergencies occur, and they're therefore part of the critical national infrastructure of the UK. That being the case, a bridge needs to be in place between the aspirations of Westminster and the local work being done by Fire and Rescue Authorities, and that bridge takes the shape of the Fire and Rescue National Framework. Now, the national framework sets out the government's priorities and objectives for local FRAs in the form of high level expectations and guidance, so it necessarily shouldn't be too prescriptive. FRAs must have regard to the framework when they're carrying out their functions. What that means in practice is that you don't absolutely have to do what it says in the framework but if you decide to depart from it, you need to have a really good explanation for why you've decided on that course of action. Every two years the Home Secretary has to report to Parliament on the extent to which FRAs are acting in accordance with the framework and, in preparing it, the Secretary of State must consult stakeholders, firstly FRAs or persons representing them and, clearly, when it comes to representing FRAs, the LGA has a fundamentally important part to play.

As you'd expect, the Home Secretary must also consult with trade unions and other persons considered appropriate and, in particular, here I would identify the National Fire Chiefs Council, which is the professional voice of the Fire and Rescue Service, and the partnership between the LGA and the National Fire Chiefs Council is crucial. Just as the relationship between officers and members is important locally, so is it at a national level in influencing government policy so that it really has genuine utility in the way that it can be applied at a local level. The framework document sets out four priorities at the moment. The first is to identify and assess foreseeable risks in the community and then make arrangements for managing them down to an appropriate level through a combination of prevention, protection and response activity. That's achieved through a process called Integrated Risk Management Planning, and I can assure you that if you're new to the sector, that is a process with which you're going to become very well-acquainted because it sits at the very heart of how you will set your policy agenda in ways that are in the best interests of local communities. The second priority is for FRAs to collaborate with other emergency services and, beyond that, partners such as local government to increase efficiency and effectiveness. You have to demonstrate that you're accountable to communities for the service that you provide and, finally, develop and maintain a workforce that's professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse.

Beyond those list of priorities, the framework contains guidance in the-, in the form of must-do and should-do things on how Fire and Rescue Authorities should address those and other objectives that are contained in the framework document, the content being spread across eight sections. So, that's a whistle-stop tour through the operating context in which Fire and Rescue Authorities set their policy agenda, and now I want to say just a, a small amount about budget-setting. One of the reasons we're not spending too much time on this is because it's very similar to arrangements within local authorities and, therefore, arrangements with which you should be fairly familiar. In the way that I listed the headline responsibilities for FRAs, it looks as if the process of determining a policy agenda and setting a budget is sequential. It's not, in fact. These two things are done in parallel. After all, how can you set a policy agenda if you're not sure whether you can afford it and, conversely, how can you set a budget if you're not sure what you're trying to achieve? So, there is quite a complex interplay between those two things, and I'm not going to talk too much about that now beyond offering a number of considerations for you as FRA members when you're setting your budgets. The first is by starting with thinking about what it is you want to achieve and, therefore, the sorts of things you're going to want to spend your money on, or rather, should I say, taxpayers' monies on. What are the options for achieving those things? What services and activities are gonna be necessary?

What level of performance do you want to achieve in the delivery of those services, and what resources are you going to need to achieve that level of performance? That should then give you a range of options to consider and the trick is to select the option that strikes the best balance between achieving really excellent outcomes for communities and affordability, and when I talk about affordability, I'm thinking here about what the FRA can afford to pay as well as whether the level of investment represents good value for money from a taxpayer's perspective. In terms of what FRAs can afford, well, FRA budgets are comprised of a number of elements. First of all, a Central Government grant in the same way as local authority budgets. Secondly, a large proportion of the budget is raised through council tax precept. There is some flexibility around it, although there is a maximum amount by which council tax can be increased, a figure beyond which you would need to secure approval through a referenda, again, similar to arrangements in local authorities. A third element around locally-retained business rates and then, finally, a small amount of income that's achieved through a combination of fees and charges that are-, that are levied for non-emergency services and also, in some cases, some commercial trading activity. And now, as we enter the home straight, we'll move from the second of the headline responsibilities to the final one, which is about undertaking scrutiny to ensure that intended outcomes are being achieved efficiency, effectively and in accordance with statutory requirements.

This is a crucially important part of your role, so important, in fact, that the LGA have decided they're going to dedicate a whole webinar to that particular subject. That being the case, I'm just gonna spend a few minutes giving you a flavour of how you might go about securing performance assurance and promoting continuous improvement in your Fire and Rescue Service. Not only do you need to be good at this, there is a requirement for you to publish details about the level of assurance that you have in something called an annual Statement of Assurance. It's a requirement that's in the national framework document and it's essentially a public declaration on the adequacy of your arrangements for governance, financial management and operational service delivery. Let's have a look at the mechanisms that are available for you to secure that performance assurance that I'm talking about. Well, internally you will be required to monitor the performance of your Fire and Rescue Service to make sure that the things you want done are being achieved efficiently and effectively. Beyond that, there will be the opportunity for you to undertake what's called deep dive scrutiny to look at specific aspects of the service's work, either on a pre-planned basis to inform decisions that you're going to take in the future or on a reactive basis in response to performance issues that you identify by monitoring performance and you think are worthy of further exploration.

Now, by far the most significant source of information and expertise when you're undertaking those two internal processes come from your senior officer team, and I said earlier that that needs to be a professional partnership characterised by openness, honesty, mutual respect and high levels of trust but it must also include a degree of two-way constructive challenge. Critical friendship is essential in securing assurance regarding a number of things. Firstly, the reliability of advice and information you're getting from your officer colleagues. Secondly, the quality and focus of decision-making and, thirdly, the progress that's being made on delivering the policy agenda that you put in place and funded, and, within the national framework, there is a requirement for Fire and Rescue Authorities to hold their chief officers to account for exercise of their functions to make sure that things are being done well. And, in that introductory piece, I mentioned the word assurance and I draw what I think is a really important distinction between assurance and reassurance. In layperson's terms, I think reassurance is when someone you trust tells you everything's fine and you can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, I'm afraid that in public life that's not enough. What you need is assurance and that's really quite a different thing when it comes to organisational performance.

That's when somebody that you preferably trust tells you what's happening, shows you the evidence to demonstrate what's happening, encourages you to ask probing questions and introduce constructive challenge and then allows you to judge for yourself if everything's fine, and when it comes to making judgements about the performance of public sector organisations like Fire and Rescue Services, it's most definitely assurance and not reassurance that elected members are looking for. As well as those internal mechanisms, there are independent mechanisms that can be really helpful in enabling you to secure assurance. The first is internal audit, which focuses on whether the business practices that you have in place are helping you to manage down the risk of things obstructing you from achieving what you want to so that you can achieve your objectives. There's also a requirement for you to have external audit arrangements in place, which focus on whether, first of all, your financial accounts give a true and fair view of the financial position of your authority and, secondly, whether governance arrangements are fit for purpose. The fairly recently introduced Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service inspection programme will periodically give you an important and independent view on the operational service delivery performance of your Fire and Rescue Service. So, that's another important, independent feed, as is Local Government Association, National Fire Chiefs Council Fire and Rescue Peer Challenge programme.

This is something that is, is led by Fire and Rescue Authorities who select the focus of these Peer Challenge exercises, and they can be focused on providing either before or after HMRCFRS inspection support so that you get as much as possible from the inspection programme, or you may identify a particular aspect of the work of your Fire and Rescue Service on which you would value an independent, expert, professional opinion, and therefore there is the opportunity to use this Peer Challenge programme to undertake thematic reviews. So, a number of mechanisms for you to consider. That brings the webinar to a close. As I have said, it's a, a fairly whistle-stop tour through the landscape on which you're gonna operate as a Fire and Rescue Authority member and some of the key aspects of your role in that respect. I hope that you've found it useful. Please provide feedback. Have a look at the document that I mentioned earlier, the leading the fire sector document, and, of course, if you have any specific questions, I'm sure you’ve got a team of very capable officers who will be prepared to help you with those. Once again, thank you so much for your time in watching the webinar and I hope that you found it useful and informative.

If you have questions or comments following the session please do email LGAFirePolicyTeam@local.gov.uk.