Fire and rescue services in England could save up to £200 million a year if they were operated more efficiently, according to a report.
In the last decade there has been a 40% reduction in call outs and incidents, and accidental deaths from fires in the home have reached an all time low - yet expenditure and fire-fighter numbers have remained broadly the same.
The independent report by Sir Ken Knight, former chief Fire and Rescue adviser for England, found that services continue to spend according to the budget they are given rather than the risks they have to manage.
Significant variations exist between how the 46 different fire authorities operate, with the cost per head of providing a service almost double in some areas to that of others, the report said. It went on to say that this does not seem to be related to whether they are large or small, rural or urban, deprived or affluent.
The report identified that the 46 fire and rescue authorities across England each had their own management structures, senior leaders and operational differences. This often leads to widespread duplication of the design, commissioning and evaluation of fire-specific products and demonstrates the potential for much closer co-operation and reconfiguration of services, the report said.
Sir Ken said: "As a firefighter for over 40 years I know the Fire and Rescue Service in and out. I know firefighters care deeply about public safety and do the best possible job. I've seen their capacity to adapt, even in the most trying of circumstances, but my report highlights that there is much more that can be done by the service leaders to make the service as effective and efficient as possible."
Dave Green of the Fire Brigades Union warned that lives could be lost and reducing the numbers of firefighters would be "completely wrong". He said the reduction in callouts was due to the preventative work of the fire service, but any cuts could mean preventative work was diminished. "Response times will increase and the public will be at risk - at greater risk - and the blunt fact is that lives could be lost," he told the programme. In the last three years 3,500 firefighters have disappeared, they're no longer there. The fact is that these cuts have been happening without any due regard for public safety."
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the review was "just a fig leaf for slashing our fire and rescue service to bits". He added: "David Cameron has promised to protect frontline services. That has been exposed as a lie over the past three years as the fire service has faced the biggest cuts in its history. Fire stations are being closed and fire engines are being axed. Last year alone a further 1,200 firefighter jobs were cut. Ken Knight is attempting to bury all these facts in order to justify further cuts in the Government's forthcoming spending review."
Chair of the Local Government Association's fire services management committee Kay Hammond said: "Sir Ken's review rightly recognises the sharp decline in call-outs and fire incidents which continue to reduce vastly because of the excellent preventative work, such as community safety schemes, which fire and rescue services have in place. Fire authorities are always looking to increase efficiencies, with many already operating differently in order to manage an unprecedented decline in funding and will continue to find savings through measures such as shared service arrangements, reducing the number of fire stations and new flexible employment practices. But it is clear that without major reforms to the service this will not be enough to sustain it in the future. Therefore, we will study Sir Ken's findings with great interest and are pleased that the Government intends to consult fully with the sector before it makes its own response."
Labour fire spokesman Chris Williamson said: "We will study the detail and recommendations in the report carefully, but Labour strongly opposes the suggestion that Fire and Rescue Services should be privatised. Emergency services should put public safety first, not profit, and we will be pushing ministers to rule out this dangerous and flawed proposal immediately."
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-fire-chief-to-lead-efficiency-review-of-fire-and-rescue(Fire Service review)