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.
The Role of Fire and Rescue Authorities
- 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.
Political Oversight of Fire and Rescue Service Performance
- Video transcript
Andy Fry: Hello, my name is Andy Fry, and welcome to this, the second in a series of online webinars that focuses on the political governance role of fire and rescue authority members. In the first webinar, we really set the scene for the others by providing a fairly high-level overview of your role as fire and rescue authority members. In this session, we're going to build on that by zooming in on a specific aspect of the role that involves providing oversight of the performance of your fire and rescue services. Before we get into the detail of the session, I just want to be clear about what it will and what it won't be focusing on. So, what we're not going to be doing is looking at the role of those responsible for overseeing the performance of fire and rescue authorities, i.e., those who are charged with holding elected representatives to account. And I'm thinking in particular here of overview and scrutiny committees in county council and unitary authority FRAs where an overview and scrutiny committee holds the political executive, the cabinet, to account. Nor are we going to be exploring the role of police, fire and crime panels that exist in areas where PFCC-style fire and rescue authorities are in place. What we are going to be looking at, however, is the role of elected members who have direct responsibility for overseeing the performance of fire and rescue services, i.e., those of you who are responsible for holding senior officers to account. And, therefore, we're going to think from the perspective of combined fire authority members, metropolitan fire authority members, cabinet members within county council and unitary authorities who hold portfolio responsibility for the fire and rescue service, police, fire and crime commissioners, and, finally, mayors who have governance responsibility for the fire and rescue service in a number of parts of the country.
In terms of what we're going to try and achieve during the course of the webinar, the overall purpose of the session is to provide what we hope will be a really useful insight into how you as FRA members can lead the process of achieving continuous improvement by engaging in effective performance oversight. In terms of the specific content, the session will divide into 2 parts. In part 1, we'll take a look at the theory of good governance and the role of effective performance oversight in applying that. Specifically, we're going to have a look at the purpose of good governance in public sector organisations, the primary governance responsibilities that you have as FRA members, the principles of good governance and the role of senior officers in supporting you to apply those principles, and the role that overview and scrutiny have in combination to the process of effective performance oversight. Then we're going to move into part 2, which is all about the practical application of effective performance oversight to support good governance of your fire and rescue services. We're going to have a look at the organisational conditions that good practice would suggest support effective performance oversight. We're going to look specifically at how performance oversight can be applied to each of the principles of good governance that we looked at earlier in the session.
What I would say is that because of the nature of webinars such as this, we're going to cover quite a lot of ground in a fairly short space of time. That being the case, I'd signpost you to the LGA document that's on this slide, 'Leading the fire sector'. It provides much of the source material for the content of this webinar, and, if after you've sat through the session there are aspects that you want to explore in a little more detail, then this document will be a good starting point for you to be able to do that at your leisure. Let's get on with the content proper, and have a look at the theory of good governance and the role of effective performance oversight. We're going to start that process by asking a really high-level question. What is the purpose of good governance in the public sector? And to find an answer to that question, we're going to draw on some good practice documents that have been developed over the years, starting with this document, the, 'International Framework on Good Governance in the Public Sector'. This was a document that was produced by a range of organisations, including the UK-based Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy, CIPFA. They collectively produced this international good practice document, which subsequently received a UK stamp of approval, when CIPFA worked alongside the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives to translate that international good practice into a UK-specific document. And, although on the document on the right is about delivering good governance in local government specifically, I think that the content is entirely applicable to the role that you have on fire and rescue authorities.
So, what do these documents say about the purpose of good governance in the public sector? They say that it, 'Comprises the arrangements put in place to ensure that intended outcomes for stakeholders are defined and achieved.' And if we translate that into our sector and think about the role that FRAs have in ensuring that intended outcomes are defined and achieved, we return to the headline responsibilities that you have as FRA members that we covered in the first webinar. And you might remember that there were 3. Firstly, you've got a really important role in determining that high-level strategic policy agenda for your fire and rescue service. Having done so, you need to set a budget to fund delivery of that policy agenda. And then, finally, undertake performance oversight to ensure that the outcomes that you've agreed need to be achieved are being achieved efficiently, effectively, and in accordance with any relevant statutory requirements. Now, as laypeople, it's important that you have the right support in place to help you achieve those 3 things, and, as a result, there is a requirement for 3 statutory officers to support the work that you do in all fire and rescue authorities. First of all, the head of paid service. This is the senior officer, usually the chief fire officer or chief executive who provides or takes a lead responsibility on providing you with advice on operational matters. We then have a second statutory officer, the chief finance officer, whose title, as you would expect, means that they provide you with advice on financial matters. And then, thirdly, all authorities will have a monitoring officer, whose role it is to ensure that the authority operates lawfully. And the monitoring officer also oversees the code of conduct to which all FRA members are expected to comply. There is a fourth statutory officer in county and unitary fire and rescue authorities, where a political executive, a cabinet, is in place, and the designated scrutiny officer has a role in supporting the role of overview and scrutiny in holding that political executive, the cabinet, to account. And there are 2 strands to their role. Firstly, to provide direct support to members of the overview and scrutiny committee, and secondly, to promote the importance of that overview and scrutiny work right across the county council or the unitary authority. So, you've got the 3 statutory officers in place in all FRAs, and, for counties and unitaries, there's a fourth designated scrutiny officer.
If we think about how you might go about discharging those 3 headline responsibilities of setting the strategic policy agenda, the budget, and undertaking overview and scrutiny, there are a number of principles that good practice suggest should be applied. And to look at these principles, we once again go back to the international framework and this UK good practice guide, both of which include a governance model, a set of 7 principles, that good practice suggests need to be applied if you're going to govern public sector organisations really well. In aggregate, the 7 principles are intended to help public sector organisations achieve intended outcomes while acting in the public interest at all times. At the centre of the model, there are 2 behaviourally-orientated principles focused on acting in the public interest at all times. They're at the centre of the model to reflect the fact that these principles should permeate the way in which you apply all the others. The first of them is about behaving with integrity, demonstrating a strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law. And the second is focused on ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement. Now, in the UK, I think these principles have been addressed by a set of standards for conduct in public life that were originally developed some time ago and are known as the Nolan Principles, a set of principles with which, I suspect, you're very well acquainted. They get their name after Lord Nolan, who chaired the committee that originally developed and introduced those 7 principles, which I think, in aggregate, are all about acting in the public interest at all times. (TC 00:10:00)
If we move from the centre of the model to the 5 principles on that outer ring, we're now moving away from behaviourally-orientated principles to action-orientated principles that are focused on achieving intended outcomes. And they start with defining the outcomes that you want to achieve. Be very clear about what your destination is in terms of what you want to achieve for communities. Having done so, determine what needs to be done to achieve those outcomes. Then develop the capacity and capability of your organisation, your fire and rescue service, to make sure it's fit for the purpose of delivering those things that will lead to outcomes being achieved. There's a principle that's about managing risk and performance, so the risks are the kinds of things that could happen that could knock you off course and prevent you from realising your aspirations. Also, overseeing performance to make sure that the direction of travel is consistent with expectations and will lead to you achieving the outcomes that you agreed right at the beginning of this process. And then, finally, report on what you've done in a really honest, open, robust and transparent way. The arrows on that outer ring of the model are intended to illustrate that this is a cyclical process that should lead to continuous improvement by public sector organisations deciding what they want to achieve, how they're going to achieve it, managing the process of delivering what they need to do, reporting on what they've achieved, and then reflecting on that cycle before deciding what they're going to do next. And if those principles are adhered to, and if they are delivered well, then what you will end up with is a cycle of continuous improvement.
Now, having thought about those 7 good practice principles of good governance, it seems fairly clear that decisions in relation to each of those 7 principles are going to need to be taken by fire and rescue authorities with the support of their officer colleagues. We're going to need decisions about the kinds of values and behaviours that will guide your organisation. How the service will demonstrate openness and engage stakeholders in a meaningful way. How outcomes will be achieved. The sorts of interventions and services that you'll need to deliver to achieve those outcomes. Decisions about the scale and/or nature of the financial and human resources that you'll need within your service to achieve your aspirations. Decisions about whether progress that's being made in delivering the policy agenda that you set is adequate and whether risks that might negatively impact on your ability to deliver what you've set out to do are being managed. And then, finally, decisions on what will be reported to the public to ensure you're being transparent and practising accountability. And I think the process of taking really good quality decisions in each of those 7 areas really brings to the fore the important relationship, the professional partnership, that needs to exist between the political leadership provided by you as fire and rescue authority members and the professional operational leadership provided by your senior officer colleagues.
In the next few slides, I'm going to attempt to illustrate how I think that relationship works in theory. At the top of the model, we've got the fire authority, the political body corporate that's responsible for those 3 things, the strategic policy direction, setting the budget, and scrutinising performance to make sure the things that should be achieved are being achieved. The capacity for delivering the policy agenda sits within the fire and rescue service itself. That's where all the front-line and support staff are who are employed by you to deliver fire and rescue services. And then, at the interface between the two, is your senior officer team, including those statutory officers that we mentioned earlier. Now, at the start of the cycle, your senior officer colleagues will use all their professional experience and expertise to provide you with advice and information so that you can take important decisions about the policy direction that you're going to set, and the budget that will fund its delivery, from as well-informed a position as possible. Having taken those decisions that are reserved to you by the constitution of the authority, you then pass the baton to your senior officer colleagues who will, again, engage their experience and expertise to lead on the process of implementing your policy framework. Having started the process of implementation, it's really important that they gather intelligence and information about how things are going before reporting that intelligence back to you in the form of professional advice and information. And, in doing so, enable you to carry out scrutiny activity, etc., and judgements from a well-informed position on how well things are going, whether you continue with the direction that you're travelling, whether there's a need to take corrective action, and so on, so that you maintain a focus on achieving the policy agenda that you set out at the start of the process. And so we go round the cycle again. Once again, a cyclical process, which, if done well, and at the centre has got a really good professional relationship between members on the fire authority and officers, will lead to continuous improvement in the performance of your fire and rescue services.
So, in terms of that relationship, it is centrally important. I think it needs to feel like a professional partnership that's characterised by openness, honesty, mutual respect and high levels of trust. But it must also include a degree of constructive challenge. Critical friendship is essential in securing assurance, and I'm talking about critical friendship provided by you to your senior officer colleagues on behalf of those who have elected you to secure assurance regarding, first of all, the veracity of the advice and information that's provided to you by your officers, the quality and the focus of the delegated decisions that they take, and then, finally, the progress that's being made in delivering that policy agenda that you set on behalf of the residents and businesses in your area. And this aspect of your role, the need for you to hold officers to account, is not only really important, but also is captured in the national framework document, which says, as this slide confirms, that, 'Each FRA must hold this person, the chief fire officer, to account for the exercise of their functions, and the functions of persons under their direction and control.'
And when I talk here about the role that you have as critical friends to your officer colleagues, I draw what I think is a really important distinction between assurance and reassurance. And, in simple terms, I would define reassurance as a sense that you get when someone you trust tells you everything's fine. Very reassuring. That's what reassurance is all about. Assurance, however, I think, in this context, is quite a different thing. And it's when someone, who, preferably, you know very well and you trust as a professional partner, tells you what's happening, they show you evidence to demonstrate what's happening, you then ask probing questions that explore and constructively challenge the evidence with which you've been presented, before judging for yourself if everything is fine. Now, both reassurance and assurance give you that sense that everything is as it should be, but in terms of your governance role, the role that you have as critical friends, then you really are seeking assurance rather than reassurance. And if you look back in history, you'll find that it's littered with examples of people in senior leadership positions mistaking reassurance for assurance, and subsequently paying a fairly significant price for having done so. So, this concept of assurance sits at the very heart of your role in performance oversight. And I think, in many ways, in a nutshell, effective oversight of fire and rescue service performance is all about you, as FRA members, securing that assurance that the right outcomes are being achieved efficiently, effectively, on time, and in accordance with any relevant statutory requirements.
That then leads to the question, 'So, how do FRA members go about achieving that within the context of their own fire and rescue services?' A useful place to look is in the statutory guidance that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, MHCLG, has produced for overview and scrutiny in local and combined authorities. Once again, whilst this is focused on local authorities, I think the content is very relevant to the performance oversight role that you have as FRA members. And, in the document, they advocate a twin-track approach to securing assurance about the performance of public sector organisations, which includes both overview (TC 00:20:00) and scrutiny. And there is an important distinction between overview and scrutiny, in that overview focuses on the development of policy, in other words, the process of planning where you want your public sector organisation, your fire and rescue service, to get to. Scrutiny, on the other hand, looks much more at decisions, decisions that have either been made, so reflecting on how successful they've been, or are about to be made, to assess the fitness for purpose of decisions in either of those contexts.
When it comes to scrutiny that looks at decisions that are about to be made, the question is, really, is this the right route to take to get to the destination that has been set? When we look at reflecting on decisions that have previously been taken to see how effective they've been, we're much more focused on how the journey has gone so far, and it's a really important part of securing assurance about performance. It gives you the opportunity to look in the rear-view mirror, and confirm either whether everything's gone according to plan, in a nice straight line, no bumps in the road, no unanticipated events that knocked you off track, and so on. Or, alternatively, when you look in the mirror, is there the opportunity to learn from some aspects of what you were trying to do not having gone as well as you would have wanted them to? So, in order to secure assurance, you do need to properly balance your effort across overview, planning where you want to get to, and scrutiny, looking at the quality of decisions that are about to be taken, how successful those decisions are likely to be, and also reflecting on whether decisions that have previously been taken were the right decisions and have got you to the right place.
So, that brings us to the end of the first part, the theory-orientated part of the webinar. We've looked at the purpose of good governance, that high-level purpose of good governance in the public sector, the primary governance responsibilities that you have as FRA members, those 7 good practice principles of good governance, and the really important role that your officer colleagues have got in supporting you to apply those principles. And then finishing with a look at the role of both overview and scrutiny in combination to help you secure assurance about the performance of your fire and rescue service. Now we're moving from theory into practice by looking at how you can achieve effective performance oversight. There are 2 areas to look at here. The first is, how should you approach overview and scrutiny as FRA members? And then a second question, about what you should focus your overview and scrutiny effort on? And we're going to start with the how aspect of this, how should you approach overview and scrutiny? In the 'Leading the fire sector' document that I pointed you towards earlier in the section, there are 6, what are described as conditions, required for an effective performance oversight, and there they are. We're just going to spend a few minutes looking at each of them in turn, and the ingredients that might produce or deal with those 6 conditions in practice.
So, starting first of all with responsibility for performance oversight being clearly assigned, details of who is responsible for overseeing the performance of the fire and rescue service should be set out in the constitution of your fire and rescue authority. Now, under normal circumstances, in a police, fire and crime commissioner FRA, it will be the PFCC. In county and unitary authority FRAs, the cabinet member with portfolio responsibility for the fire and rescue service will usually be assigned responsibility for performance oversight. In the mayoral FRA model, it will be the mayor or a deputy who is assigned responsibility. And, finally, in combined or metropolitan FRAs, by default it would be the full fire and rescue authorities, but good practice would suggest that what you ought to have in place is a sub-committee of the full authority, preferably cross-party, specifically assigned responsibility for performance oversight. The second condition is about you as FRA members having a really positive attitude towards overview and scrutiny, firstly by demonstrating that you genuinely value overview and scrutiny, and are committed to the process by taking part in training courses, etc., that are offered to you. Work constructively with your officer colleagues, but as critical friends. It is important to avoid party politics when engaging in performance oversight, particularly when dealing with contentious issues, which absolutely must be dealt with, but not in a party-political way.
Finally, focus on your role as elected representatives, the voice of your residents and businesses, in the way that you undertake your performance oversight role. We're talking here about adhering to those 7 Nolan principles that we looked at earlier on in the session. The third condition moves away from members to senior offices and the imperative for them to have a positive attitude towards overview and scrutiny. Senior officers must recognise the value of the political oversight in constructively challenging and improving their professional practice. I remember, during my time as a chief fire office, that constructive challenge, that effective performance oversight, is not always a comfortable experience from the perspective of the officers involved but it is a hugely valuable experience in terms of bringing in the different perspectives on issues, the non-professional perspectives that can be applied by elected members. Challenging professional practice constructively, in ways that can lead to it actually improving. It's not always a comfortable experience but it's incredibly valuable and a centrally important part of a senior officer's role is about understanding that value.
The Chief Fire Officer, the Commissioner, the senior executive in the organisations should assign lead responsibility for supporting the overview and scrutiny activity that takes place to a member of their most senior team, so that elected members who are responsible for overview and scrutiny have a go-to officer, who they're all aware of, that can support them in in undertaking the important work that they need to do. The fourth condition is around arrangement for effective work programme, making sure that you're concentrating what is a finite amount of time that's available for overview and scrutiny on the right things. At the centre of effective work programme is planned overview and scrutiny. You will have a plan, a work programme, usually an annual work programme of what you're intending to scrutinise. There should be an element of overview in that annual work programme to guide the policy development work that needs to be done, and that can be done through workshops that members are involved in, setting up task and finish groups to look at particular policy areas. The planned activity should also include scrutiny to examine decisions that either have been made in the past or you're aware will be taken. That scrutiny can be done on occasions within full overview and scrutiny committee type setting or by task and finish group. Planning what's going to be in your annual work programme is really important but you also need to leave room for responsive scrutiny, so that you've got the capacity, the time, to address emerging performance issues as you make your way through each year.
The fifth condition is about those undertaking overview and scrutiny having to have access to a range of reliable information from a variety of sources, so that you can triangulate evidence, compare one set of evidence and information with at least one other before making a judgement about what's going on and securing the assurance that you need. Most of the expert evidence that you will get will come from your internal team of officer colleagues but it may be that you also get some evidence from independent peers of your officer colleagues. Quarterly performance and finance reports are really important to give you a sense of what's going on, preferably, where possible, benchmarked against other similar Fire and Rescue Services, so that you can make a judgement about relative performance and raise interesting questions about why there's a difference in a particular performance area between your fire service and another. You should be looking at programme and project management information to assure yourselves that the big projects that are being done to take the service forward are being delivered on time, on budget and to the right quality. Looking at information in risk registers, so that you can satisfy yourself that the risks that might knock you off-course are being properly managed. Looking at records of compliments and complaints from people to get an external perspective of your Fire and Rescue Service. Looking at internal reviews that have been done and the action plans that emerged from those, and also external inspection report, such (TC 00:30:00) as those produced by HMIC, FRS. Feedback from consultations, both consultations with staff and members of the public, provide a very useful feed of information into you making judgements about how well your Fire and Rescue Service is doing.
The sixth and final condition is very much about those undertaking scrutiny having access or possessing yourself the necessarily skills and knowledge to do that work really well. Wherever you get an opportunity, take it, to involve yourself in training which will develop the skills that are required of effective scrutineers, you need to be really good at questioning, listening and analysing information before coming to judgement, training, really important for you. Draw on the extensive knowledge and expertise of your in-house officer team. Consider co-opting independent subject-matter experts to enhance the quality of the constructive challenge that you're able to provide where necessary. We're thinking here about peer challenge, and there is a joint offer from the Local Government Association and the National Fire Chiefs Council in the shape of their fire and rescue peer support framework that gives you, as FRA members, access to exactly that independent subject matter expertise. We've addressed some of the how you should approach overview and scrutiny. We then move on to look at what you should focus your overview and scrutiny effort on specifically. We're going to finish the webinar by exploring what you might look at to achieve the assurance that you need about the performance of your Fire and Rescue Services. Earlier in the session we looked at the 7 principles that good practice guidance suggests need to be addressed if public sector organisations are going to be really well-governed.
That raises the question about where FRA members should concentrate their overview and scrutiny attention to secure assurance that each of those principles is being adhered to. Something that I think can help with this when building your overview and scrutiny work programme is to think about different policies, strategies, plans, reports, processes and guidance that are relevant to each of the 7 principles and consider whether they should inform the focus of your overview and scrutiny effort. For FRA members who have a lead responsibility for overview and scrutiny, I would highly recommend that this is an exercise that you should go through with your officer colleagues when building your annual performance oversight work programme. For now, I'm going to offer a few examples of these policies that are relevant to each of the 7 principles we touched on earlier. When it comes to thinking about whether you've got things set up in a right way, to behave with integrity demonstrates strong commitment to ethical values, a good starting point is to look at those Nolan principles and the way that they're being applied. Have you got a code of ethics which should provide fairly high level values-based guidance intended to influence the way in which judgements are taken in your Fire and Rescue Services, as well as on your fire authority? Do you have a code of conduct that explains the way that you and your officer colleagues are expected to behave in specific situations? Have you got a member officer protocol in place that explains how you work together to bring political and professional leadership together? Where the lines of demarcation are between the role that you have, as FRA members, and the role that's undertaken by your senior officer colleagues?
There should also be a whistle-blowing policy in place. Moving to the next principle that's about being open and engaging with stakeholder. The Nolan principles should come into play in the way that you think about how well you're doing in this regard. There should be a set of standing orders that guide the way you conduct your business as a Fire and Rescue Authority. There should be a forward-plan that outlines details of the important decisions that you're planning to take, which should be published into the public domain. Looking at the local authority transparency code published by the Department for Communities and Local Government some time ago that lists specific pieces of information that you should make available as fire and rescue authorities to demonstrate transparency. In terms of the way that you engage with stakeholders, how do you go about consultation? Is your consultation approach consistent with the Gunning principles. They're a set of principles which are intended to support good practice in the way that public sector organisations engage with stakeholders. Moving to the principles on the outside of the model, starting with defining the outcomes that you want to achieve. For PFCCs, you'd look in your corporate plan and your fire and rescue plan. For other fire and rescue authorities, you'd want to look at what it says in your integrated risk management plan about the outcomes that you want to achieve.
Moving to what needs to be done to achieve those outcomes, the corporate plan and the fire and rescue plan ought to include information about that, as should the integrated risk management plan, with an extra level of detail about how you're going to balance service delivery across prevention, protection and response. There should also be an annual delivery plan that outlines in a little more detail what you're going to do in each 12-month period. As far as developing the organisation's capacity and capability to deliver what needs to be done, there are 2 important things here. 1 is about how you are putting in place and supporting your human resources. There ought to be a people strategy in place that includes that long list of things and probably several other aspects. Then there's the financial resources. Have you got a medium-term financial plan in place? Does it talk about how you're going to be investing your revenue, how you're going to be achieving your efficiency, what level of reserves you hold and for what? How you're going to invest in your capital infrastructure to make sure that the things that you want to achieve have got the buildings, the fire-engines, the equipment, the IT infrastructure in place to enable them to happen. There should be a member development programme in place for Fire and Rescue Authority members, so that you're equipped to deliver your governance responsibilities really well. As far as managing risks and performance to ensure outcomes are achieved, you should have a performance management framework in place, which provides you, as FRA members, with a really regular and balanced view of performance.
There should be an element within that framework that's focussed on what I'm describing here as corporate health. That's really about the health of your workforce and your finances. There should be a second aspect in the framework that's focussed on the quality of service delivery. How are services that you are delivering being experienced by your customers? There's a third area that I'm calling priority projects. Are you being provided with information that enables you to keep a handle on how those big ticket projects are going? Are they being delivered on time to the right quality and within the budget that's been allocated? Within a properly balanced performance management framework, there should be an element that's focussed on corporate risk management. Have you identified and are you managing the risks that could knock you off course and generate business continuity issues? The final principle is about reporting on what you've done in a really honest, robust and transparent way. The local authority transparency code comes into play here. Are you publishing information in a way that is consistent with the code? Are you producing performance reports that are presented in ways and written in language that is accessible to people outside the Fire and Rescue Service, so they make judgements about how well you're doing? Then there is a requirement for you to produce an annual statement of assurance, which is a public declaration on how effectively you're managing your finance, how good your governance arrangements are and how effective and efficient your operational service delivery is. External audit reports, a really important source of information from you, as are reports such as peer challenge reports that can be commissioned by you and will be produced in partnership between the Local Government Association and the National Fire Chiefs Council.
Reports that are produced my Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service, another really important independent view on how well your service is doing. That brings us to the end of this webinar. I hope you found it useful. We have covered quite a lot of ground in a fairly short space of time. Do take an opportunity to go back and have a look at the lead in the fire sector document if you want to explore any of the material that we've covered in a little bit more time at your leisure. All that remains for me to do is to thank you very much for taking the time to sit through this session and to say that I very (TC 00:40:00) much look forward to welcoming to the next. Thank you.
Effective FRA Governance in Times of Crisis
- Video transcript
Andy Fry: Hello, my name is Andy Fry and welcome to this, the third in a series of pre-recorded LGA webinars, exploring the governance role of Fire and Rescue Authority members in England. The first webinar in the series provided a fairly general high-level overview of the governance role that you all have as FRA members. The second webinar focussed specifically on the responsibility that you have overseeing the performance of your fire and rescue services. This third session continues that theme and specific focus by examining what I think is a really important governance consideration for you as FRA members. That is how can you exercise your political governance role really effectively throughout the process of your fire and rescue services firstly preparing for and then, if necessary, responding to and recovering from really major emergencies or other significant crises that have a very substantial impact on the service. We're going to approach that question from a particular perspective. That is because, unlike most organisations, by their very nature, as emergency responders, your fire and rescue services are really well used to dealing with emergencies and other crises.
It is just a routine part of their day-to-day business as usual. However, at times, the sheer scale and nature and/or the duration of a major emergency can be so significant that it has got the potential to undermine the ability of your fire and rescue service to deal with that major emergency and, in parallel with that, to continue to deliver all the other important work for which it is responsible. At the heart of this webinar, we're talking about business continuity. As an extension of the challenges that those kind of scenarios can create for your fire and rescue services, they can also raise questions about the ability of fire and rescue authorities to continue to exercise their really important governance role. In particular, to oversee the ongoing discharge of the long list of statutory responsibilities for which you are responsible. I think we are trying to address over the next half an hour what is a really important governance question for all of you as FRA members. In terms of what we are going to cover, the high-level purpose of the webinar is really to provide you with some food for thought.
Some practical ideas on the sorts of things you should be considering to exercise effective governance through the process of your services, preparing for responding to and recovering from major emergencies. As far as the specific content is concerned, the webinar really breaks into 2 parts. The first part is looking at some theory, first of all by setting the governance role that you all have as FRA members in relation to major crises within the context of your broader governance responsibilities. We're then going to have a look at the various stages of an emergency management cycle, throughout which you will need to continue to exercise good governance. Then we'll finish the theory section by looking at the specific responsibility that you as FRA members for business continuity under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Then we move from theory into what is probably the more important part of the webinar, practical application. We're going to do that by returning to the various stages of the emergency management cycle to think about the sorts of things that you might do to exercise effective governance.
Firstly, by securing assurance that your fire and rescue services are really well prepared for major crises. Then exercising governance when they're called upon to respond all the way through that response phase, and then continuing into the process of exercising effective governance during recovery from a major emergency, after the response has been dealt with. Then also learning available lessons from the experience of having dealt with that emergency, which fits under the heading of mitigation, so we're going to spend a few minutes on that. Okay, let's start with a quick look at a little bit of theory. To do that, we're going to cover quite quickly some of the ground that we looked at in a lot more detail during the first 2 webinars. Starting at that top level around the governance role that you have as Fire and Rescue Authority. As far as your headline responsibilities are concerned, they really fit, they crystallize into 3 key areas. The first is the really important role that you have in determining that high-level strategic policy agenda for your fire and rescue services. Having done that, you have got an important role in setting an appropriate budget to fund delivery of that policy agenda.
Then the third area of responsibility that you have which is really important is about undertaking scrutiny. Introducing constructive challenge, critical friendship, to satisfy yourselves that the outcomes that you have set as being important are being achieved by your fire and rescue services efficiently, effectively and in accordance with any statutory requirements. There are the headline responsibilities. In terms of how you exercise them, good practice suggests that there are a number of principles that public sector organisations like FRAs need to keep in mind when they're dealing with those headline responsibilities. They are set out in this model that comes from an international framework for good governance. In aggregate, these 7 principles are intended to help public sector organisations to achieve the outcomes that they have set out to achieve, while acting in the public interest at all times. At the centre of the model, there are 2 behaviourally orientated principles, so this is the acting in the public interest at all times aspect. In the UK, I think this is discharged through the well established now Nolan principles, of which I am sure you are all well aware.
There they are on the left-hand side, the 7 principles that people in positions of public life need to adhere to, to make certain that they're acting in the public interest at all times. On the outside of the model, we have got the remaining 5 principles, which are action orientated and are very much focussed on making sure that intended outcomes are achieved. We start in the top right-hand segment by working with your officer colleagues to define the high-level outcomes that you want your fire and rescue services to achieve. Having done that, you determine what needs to be done to achieve those intended outcomes. In particular, this will be about the offer, the services that you provide across prevention, protection and response. We then move to a principle that is about making sure that your fire and rescue service is fit for purpose, by building the necessary capacity and capability it needs to deliver those services and achieves the outcomes that have been set. Then there is a principle about managing the kind of risks that have the potential to knock you off course and stop you from achieving what you want to, and a more general point about the role that you have in overseeing the performance of your fire and rescue service.
Identifying good practice where it emerges but also making sure that corrective action is taken if you're not on the right trajectory to achieve the things that you set out to achieve. Then the final principle is really important and it is about reporting on what you have achieved and doing it in a really open, transparent and honest way. Now, the arrows within this model are attempting to illustrate that this is an ongoing cyclical process which, if done well, should lead to the continuous improvement in the performance of your fire and rescue services. There is a little bit on your 3 headline responsibilities. To set the policy agenda for your service, to set the budget to pay for its delivery and then to undertake scrutiny to make sure that that policy agenda is being delivered really well. In the process of discharging those responsibilities, you need to keep the 7 principles that are on the screen on this slide in mind. For the purposes of this webinar, the principle that we're really interested in is this one here and, in particular, the requirement for public sector organisations to manage risks that have got the potential to knock them off course.
With all the best planning in the world, there is always the potential that there will be not necessarily unanticipated events but certainly highly unwelcome events of the sort Harold Macmillan spoke about all those years ago. From the perspective of this webinar, when we think of events as risks, we're thinking specifically about business continuity risks. What are the things that could happen, that could prevent you and your fire and rescue service from delivering the really important business that you exist to deliver? In order to manage business continuity risks really well, you need to think about the kind of scenarios that might come into play. I think business continuity risk can come into play in 3 scenarios. The first (TC 00:10:00) is where your fire and rescue service is responding to a really major emergency. The extent of the resources that are being deployed to deal with that emergency denewed the resources that are available for dealing with other really important service delivery. That creates a business continuity issue.
The second scenario is where a major crisis is directly impacting on your service, so you're not necessarily responding to it but you're being impacted upon by a major crisis and that is depleting your human and/or other resources. A really topical example of that would be pandemic illness. If there is an outbreak of pandemic illness that makes a significant proportion of your fire and rescue services workforce too unwell to come to work, then clearly that generates quite a significant business continuity risk. The third scenario is a combination of the first two. Unlikely but nevertheless realistic. It is possible that, at the same time as you're investing huge resources in dealing with a major response to a significant emergency, something else could come in from left-field which also impacts on the amount of resource that you have got available to continue with the really important business for which you are responsible. In order to manage business continuity risks really well in each of those 3 scenarios, you need to think about dealing with risk in an integrated way. That is done by managing it through each of the stages that comprise what is known as an emergency or a crisis management cycle.
This is how you achieve an integrated approach to managing down business continuity and other kinds of risk. There are 4 phases in this integrated emergency management model. The first of which is focussed on being prepared for something to go wrong. There are 4 aspects to preparing this. The first is about using your imaginations to anticipate the kind of things that could go wrong. Having done that, to make an assessment of how likely it is that that bad thing is going to happen and, if so, what would the consequences of it be? Having carried out an assessment, you then turn your attention to thinking about how you can prevent the things from going wrong by taking necessary steps. Then the fourth element in preparing this about accepting that, with all the best anticipation assessment and prevention work in the world, there is still a chance that that bad thing might happen. That that risk may manifest itself and you end up with a significant emergency or other crisis that has got business continuity implications. You therefore need to plan for how you mitigate the impact of those sorts of emergencies and crises.
They are the 4 stages of preparing this. Really, as you can imagine, very important. So important, in fact, that for a critical public service like fire and rescue, the ability, the requirement to carry out really effective preparedness work is enshrined in law in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Under the Civil Contingencies Act, fire and rescue authorities are designated as something called Category 1 responders. Alongside ambulance and police, the other blue-light services, local authorities, the NHS and the Environment Agency, organisations that have got a centrally important role in dealing with major emergencies. The CCA requires all of those organisations to cooperate and to work together to plan how to prevent things going wrong if possible and then beyond that how they will mitigate the impact of a major emergency, should it happen. There is a common set of responsibilities for all those Category 1 responders under the Civil Contingencies Act. Within the list, there is a specific requirement for Category 1 responders to put in place business continuity management arrangements.
If something happens that has got the ability to stop you from delivering your critical public services, you have planned for it and you are in a position to minimise its impact. Preparedness is really important. If the worst does happen, the balloon does go up and there is a major emergency or other crises in play, then it is important for your fire and rescue service to respond to it. Having dealt with response, attention then turns to how you recover from having dealt with that emergency. Then moving into the final phase of the integrated emergency management model is described as mitigation. This, in a nutshell, is about making sure that you invest time and effort in really getting to the bottom of the lessons that have been learnt from dealing with that major emergency. Then feeding that learning into reviewing the various aspects of preparedness so that, on the basis of having dealt with an emergency, you are even better prepared to deal with something similar, should it happen at some point in the future. Again, we end up with a virtual circle, if this is done well, that should lead to continuous improvement in terms of your fire and rescue service's preparedness and ability to respond to and recover from major emergencies and other crises.
As far as the governance role of you as Fire and Rescue Authority members is concerned, in the same way as your officer colleagues have got a centrally important role to play in the operational and professional aspects of preparedness response, recovery and mitigation, you as FRA members have also got a really important political governance role to play in each of those 4 areas. That is what we are going to move onto now as we make our way from the first to the second part of the webinar, from theory into practice. How do you exercise really effective governance throughout each of the stages of that emergency management cycle? We're going to start at the beginning with preparedness. The takeaway message about preparedness, unsurprisingly, is that the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining. If there are any holes in your emergency preparedness arrangements, in your business continuity arrangements, the time to address those is not when you're in the teeth of dealing with a major emergency. It is during the preparedness phase. Spending time upstream or making sure you're really well prepared is the key trick.
Really important of that process is to scrutinise, to constructively challenge business continuity plans. The Civil Contingencies Act says that you must have them. How good are they? Really important role for you as Fire Authority members to play in testing the efficacy of your business continuity plans. In the process of doing so, be imaginative in the questions that you ask, in the way that you explore business continuity arrangements. Are the plans based on the worst-case scenarios and set in the world as it really is? It was interesting that in the aftermath of the dreadful 9/11 attacks in New York, the body charged with reviewing the response to the 9/11 attacks drew a number of conclusions. One of the headline conclusions that they drew was that the greatest enemy of effective planning for major emergencies, the greatest enemy to being really well prepared for things to go wrong is a lack of imagination. Ever so important to be imaginative in the way you think about the sort of things that could generate business continuity challenges for your fire and rescue services. Are risks being addressed from a different perspective than those you represent and work with?
For example, diverse communities, businesses, partner organisation staff and trade union. As laypeople, as elected representatives, you have, of course, got a really important role to be the voice of those different constituencies. Thinking about the way the business continuity is being dealt with from those different perspectives is something you can do that adds real value to the process of testing business continuity plans. Question about how quickly the plans can be deployed in response to what are called no-notice as opposed to rising-tide crises. How quickly can your service switch these plans into place? There is a wide spectrum. If you think about the speed with which a cyber attack, which you have had no notice of, can impact on your organisation versus the need for you to respond to wide-area flooding. It is a very significant challenge but because of the quality of weather forecasts, you are at the very least going to get quite a number of hours' warning before wide-area flooding starts. There is a decent change that you will get several days. When it comes to cyber attack, though, that can arrive immediately and have a very signifiant impact.
How quickly will you be able to switch on your business continuity plans in a scenario of that sort? Again, very topical. If remote working is required, are you going to be ready for that? Both as a service (TC 00:20:00) but also as a Fire and Rescue Authority. There are 3 aspects. Do people have the hardware that they need? Is the software available that will enable them to conduct business remotely? Also, have people been appropriately trained in the use of this kind of technology, with which we're all becoming more familiar. Continuing with this theme of scrutinising and constructively challenging business continuity plans, how can important outcomes be achieved in different ways during a crisis? For example, by using ICT and social media to engage with vulnerable groups. This would be an obvious example where you, under normal circumstances, would be carrying out home safety checks. Safe and well visits in the homes of vulnerable people may not be possible if there is an outbreak of pandemic illness, so how can you still engage with those people and make sure that they're properly looked after?
By exploiting the opportunities that come with modern-day technology. Really important issue here in that the level of resilience you have, how resistant you are to business continuity challenges is determined to some extent by how resilient organisations are in your critical supply chains. A question about whether they have got really good quality business continuity arrangements in place to make sure that goods and services that you really need to deliver your fire and rescue services are going to continue to be available during periods of significant challenge. Do you need to engage peer review support to secure independent professional advice on the adequacy of business continuity arrangements? Clearly your officer team will have a very high level of expertise when it comes to managing business continuity risk. You have got an important role as elected representatives to introduce constructive challenge on behalf of residents, businesses from that layperson's perspective.
At times, it may be useful to introduce independent professional challenge so that planned business continuity arrangements are being tested from the professional perspective of peers of your senior officers. Where you think that might be a useful thing, then there is a joint local government association, National Fire Chiefs Council peer support framework, which will provide you with access to that kind of peer review support, if you think it would be valuable in testing your business continuity plans. Also a question about what Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service have had to say about business continuity arrangements last time they came to visit. Certainly if you look at any of the reports that were produced following the first tranche of inspection, they all include a section on the HMICFRS's view on the quality of business continuity plans within fire and rescue services. Something else that is worth a look. Moving on from testing the efficacy of plan, rather testing the business continuity plans or, as an extension of that perhaps, ensuring that the plans are being exercised.
To enable people including Fire and Rescue Authority members where appropriate, to rehearse their roles in deploying those plans in a safe, simulated training environment. There is the old adage about plans, however well crafted they are, only surviving as long as first contact with the enemy. By testing these plans, putting them under strain in that simulated training environment is a really good way of getting a sense of whether they're likely to work in a real world where they're required. Does the Fire and Rescue Authority's constitution-, so this is certainly at the heart of governance. Does your constitution allow for effective governance during periods of crisis? There are various things to think about in this respect. One of the considerations is how will you conduct your business as an authority, as a public body, in a constitutionally compliant way if you, as members, are unable to meet in person? Certainly an issue that you all have been dealing with over the course of the last year and an important consideration when it comes to the way your constitution and standing orders are put together. Is there sufficient flexibility to deal with a crisis in quick time?
Again, standing orders, scheme of delegation will shape the way that decisions are made in normal circumstances but, by definition, when you're dealing with a major emergency or other crises, we're not dealing with normal. Are urgent decision making arrangements likely to be be fit-for-purpose? Are people going to be able to make decisions in the dynamic way that they need to when responding to major emergencies? Does the scheme of delegation have sufficient contingency to operate effectively if your officer colleagues have got primary delegated responsibilities? Your Chief Officer, Chief Fire Officer, Chief Finance Officer and so on. When they are potentially unavailable, is there a fallback position? This was an important lesson that was learnt by our colleagues in Derbyshire when they were dealing with the Whaley Bridge incident. Very serious incident, you might remember, where it looked as if the dam around the reservoir may collapse and threaten a village that was below it. This was a really high profile protracted and important emergency. The senior officer team were very heavily involved in dealing with the response and, as a result, weren't available to make some of the decisions that the scheme of delegation assumed they would be available for under normal circumstances.
I'm pleased to say that the service, the authority, have learnt. They have reviewed and rewritten the scheme of delegation so that they are now confident there is enough contingency in there to assign responsibility to other officers when the primary officers with those delegated responsibilities are not available. Moving from preparedness into response, so we're now in a situation where something significant is happening. First thing to say is that this is where your officer teams really come into their own. It is a centrally important part of their role to be competent at providing an effective response to emergencies and other crisis. They'll need to be given the space to stretch their professional legs in achieving that. Having said that, though, FRA members, you, will continue to have a really important role in providing political leadership and support to your officer colleagues by exercising that political leadership in your governance role on behalf of those that you represent. Some issues that you want to consider during response.
First of all, I can't emphasise how important it is for senior councillor, might be the FRA chair, cabinet member in a county council service, PFCC, mayor, you need to establish really good lines of communication very early on, so that there is really good alignment between the political leadership being provided by the Fire Authority members and the professional operational leadership being provided by your senior officer team. Early dialogue, really important. Agree arrangements for ensuring that all FRA members remain briefed about the fire and rescue service response itself, if you are dealing with an emergency and also any business continuity issues. Thinking about how best to exercise or to exploit the various communication channels that are available now, to make sure that all members of the authority have their realistic expectation that they all (inaudible 28.17) briefed fully met. Okay, so you are now actually dealing with an emergency. If your constitution is well written, then the schemes of delegation and so on should enable urgent decision making arrangements to work effectively, but are they actually proving to be fit-for-purpose within the real world context of this response?
Some more issues to consider. Members working probably with your monitoring officer to examine whether the crisis is likely to impact on the Fire and Rescue Authority's agreed work programme. There might be key decisions that are in the diary to be taken. Do you need to defer those decisions? Are you out to consultation on things like your integrated or your community risk management plans? If so, do you need to extend those consultations to give people a reasonable opportunity to contribute their views to them, and so on? An important piece of work for members to do, probably with your monitoring officer. Under part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act, there is the ability for the government to introduce emergency legislation. We have seen quite a lot of that during the COVID-19 response. A question, based on the dialogue that you are having with your officers about whether emergency legislation might be required to deal with the unique characteristics of a particular emergency. If so, the route to that is to lobby central government through the LGA structures that are available to you as FRA members.
A question about whether the national conditions of service (TC 00:30:00) that operational staff operate under are fit for the purpose of dealing with this emergency response. Do they need to be amended in any way to facilitate an effective response? If so, then, again, there is the ability for you, as local FRA members, to lobby for those kind of changes through the employers side of the National Joint Council. The last thing to say, or at least one of the last things to say, about your role during response is that scrutiny and constructive challenge about how effectively your services have responded and how well they have managed business continuity issues is really important. In fact, it is an essential part of what you do as members. Considering the timing of that scrutiny and constructive challenge is really important. As a general principle, you will look at and make judgements about the effectiveness of the response and so on during the recovery phase. During the response phase, everybody's efforts should be focussed on minimising the impact of the emergency, of which you are in the teeth.
Having said that, if you're dealing with a crisis or a major emergency that extends over a very significant period of time, in the way that perhaps COVID-19 is, then it is not only possible but it's likely that those lines of demarcation will be blurred. In fact, only recently, we have seen not fire and rescue authorities but we have certainly seen the inspectorate spend time looking at how the fire and rescue service in England has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and made some judgements about that. As a general principle, we would say that response is not the time for scrutiny and critical friendship, but that is not an absolute thing. The lines can become a bit blurred, particularly if the response phase goes on for a very long period of time. Really important for you as members to record details of your experience in the response phase, for use in subsequent debriefs within your own organisations. Potentially independent scrutiny and independent inspections, and potentially public enquiries. We're not talking about professionally logging details of decisions that are taken and so on.
What we are talking about is a far more narrative version of your experience of having been involved in the response, which you may well be asked about at some point in the future. That point in the future could be quite soon after the emergency response but, equally, in the case of public enquiries, for example, you may not be asked to recount details of your experience for quite a number of years. It is a really good idea to capture contemporaneous notes of things that you have experienced. Particularly things that you think might be important or relevant when people are asking questions about the response in the future. Then, the last point I would make, as a former officer myself, is that you should never underestimate the value that your officer colleagues will attach to members of their fire authority just giving them a thank you for the work they're doing during emergency response. Officers will often be working really long hours, frequently under arduous conditions and sometimes under really traumatic conditions. Being given a pat on the back, just a thank you for a job that has been really well done, goes a huge distance.
Certainly an important part of a member's role during the emergency response phase. Okay, we're now going to move into thinking about some practical things that you might do during recovery and mitigation. The process of returning after a major emergency or other crisis to some kind of often new normal. Once again, many aspects of recovery and mitigation will be operation. Return to the new normal will therefore be dealt with by officers to a significant extent. Once again, you have really got a centrally important role in leafing the process of review the fire and rescue service response operation. Both in terms of how well the service responded. If it was an emergency that the fire and rescue service was expected to deal with, but also in terms of how well you managed to maintain the continuity of important business during the process of responding to the crisis. You need, in that process, to capture details of what worked well to embed that good practice and make sure you share it with other organisations who will really value the opportunity to learn from your experience. Equally, identify examples of what could have gone better.
This is more challenging and more difficult at times but equally important. Make sure that you explore the detail of what could have gone better and make sure that any lessons are properly learnt and, most importantly, actually addressed. Things that you should consider. First of all, once the dust has settled, does a report need to be prepared for the full Fire Authority outlining details of the fire and rescue service response. Addressing any governance issues requiring what I have described there as regularisation. Even with the best constitutional arrangements, the best schemes of delegation and so on in place, it could easily be that during the course of dealing with an emergency, quick-time decisions have needed to have been taken that could lead to some of those decisions not being constitutionally watertight. Or at least being decisions that lead to subsequently be reported to the full Fire and Rescue Authority, potentially for retrospective consideration and approval. Is it necessary to take details of how the response effort went to the full authority?
As a continuation of that, should the Fire Authority establish a scrutiny exercise that enables a really deep dive to be undertaken to examine in real detail how the fire and rescue service performed before reporting back to the full authority on its findings and any recommendations? Full Fire Authority meetings are good places to take decisions but not necessarily the best places for detailed work to take place. Should there be a task and finished piece of work done, which is subsequently reported back to the authority on how well the service did in responding to the emergency? Make sure that full details of the financial cost of response have been captured and potentially claimed back through what is known as the Belwin Scheme. This is a scheme that enables local authorities and fire authorities to claim back some of the costs involved in the response phase of the emergency. Normally there is an expectation that those claims go in within a month of the response phase finishing, so there is a really important piece of work to be done to properly cost that.
The nuts and bolts of that work are clearly going to be done by your officer colleagues but there is an important role for you in providing critical oversight as that financial analysis is completed. Then the last thing to say is that in the aftermath of something very significant happening, you can end up with an awful lot of work being done to examine independently how well things have gone, all the way up to and including the government commissioning public enquiries. That bring us to the end of the third webinar. I very much hope that we achieved what we set out to do. I.e. to provide you with some really useful food for thought in terms of how you can exercise your governance role effectively during periods of crises.
If you have questions or comments following the session please do email LGAFirePolicyTeam@local.gov.uk.
Governance checklist for fire and rescue authorities
The questions posed in this guide provide a high-level, quick reference checklist that FRA members can use to consider all aspects of their governance role. It is based around a set of internationally recognised good governance principles developed by International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and suggests how each might be addressed by FRA members.