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Drivers for change

IO3: National standards and guidance

Prior to the 2004 Fire and Rescue Services Act, there were national standards of fire cover which determined what appliances were sent to particular properties and the time they should arrive. With their origins in the 1930s, these standards were based on the characteristics of a property rather than the broader risk in an area. The Bain report looked at this arrangement and concluded that standards of fire cover should be replaced by a risk-based approach to fire cover ‘as a matter of urgency’. Today most IRMPs include pre-determined attendance times for different incident types. 

Nearly ten years later, Sir Ken Knight writing in his report for government mentions standards 14 times, looking at them in terms of equipment specification, occupational standards related to role and about the benefits of standardisation for collaboration. He also links the creation of standards to efficiencies. His report came out in 2013 while the National Operational Guidance Programme was in its infancy.

In 2016 the Home Secretary spoke about the need for standards. “I welcome the Chief Fire Officers’ Association’s proposals to develop a coherent and comprehensive set of professional standards, building on the work of the National Operational Guidance Programme. There are many legitimate reasons why collaboration can fail - competing aims, conflicts of leadership, differing financial positions - but a lack of consistent professional standards is not one of them.”

Later in 2017, the then Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis built on the 2016 speech. “I will be establishing a new professional standards body for everyone in fire and rescue which will build a comprehensive professional framework of standards for the service.” He expected the new inspectorate to inspect against the standards created by this new body. The May 2018 National Framework states, “All fire and rescue authorities must implement the standards approved through this work and the inspectorate will have regard to these standards as part of their inspections”.

The Fire Standards Board started work in 2019. It has an independent Chair and Vice Chair, with members drawn from the NFCC, the LGA, Home Office and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. 

The tranche 1 report from HMICFRS notes, “This problem (the lack of consistent data) combined with the absence of existing national standards, has resulted in local variations in almost every aspect of what each fire and rescue service does. The public can’t always be sure they will receive the same quality of support from fire and rescue services or understand the justification for variations between areas. This situation needs to improve.” The link between standards and service delivery, the development of risk management plans and demonstrating value for money for the public is clearly made by HMICFRS.