Fire and Rescue Authority Structures
There are currently 45 FRAs in England.
Where fire and rescue services share a boundary with a single upper tier council, the council is the fire authority. In this scenario, the FRS is an integral part of that council, alongside other services such as social care, education, public health and highways. There are currently 15 FRAs of this type in England (13 county councils, the unitary authority in Cornwall and the Council of the Isles of Scilly).
In non-metropolitan areas where the FRA’s boundary incorporates more than one upper tier council, a stand-alone combined fire authority (CFA) is responsible for its governance. CFAs are comprised of elected councillors appointed by the leaders of each constituent council, with the number of members from each being based on relative electorate population size. The requirement to reflect this, and the need to achieve political balance, informs a calculation on the overall size of CFAs, with the largest having around 25 members. There are currently 23 CFAs in England.
In metropolitan areas (with the exception of London and Manchester), arrangements are similar to those in areas where CFAs exist, with members being appointed from constituent metropolitan councils. Five FRAs of this type currently exist in England.
London has a unique governance structure in comparison to other fire and rescue authorities. The London Fire Commissioner is a corporation sole and the fire and rescue authority for London. It is a functional body of the Greater London Authority. The Mayor of London sets its budget, approves the London Safety Plan, and can direct it to act. There is a Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience.
Greater Manchester fire service also now comes under the control of a mayor, although unlike in London the mayor is the fire and rescue authority. The mayor is responsible for discharging the duties of the fire and rescue authority, and is supported in this role by a Fire Committee, comprising 15 members – all of whom are appointed from the ten local authorities in the Greater Manchester area.
The Governance Role of Fire and Rescue Authorities
The governance role of FRAs generally reflects that found in local authorities. Essentially, FRA members are responsible – with support from their officer colleagues – for determining the policy direction of their FRS; setting a budget to fund delivery of that policy direction; and undertaking scrutiny to ensure that intended outcomes are being achieved economically, efficiently, effectively and in accordance with statutory requirements.
In contrast to the police service, where both chief constables and PCCs can be responsible for employing staff, FRAs are employing authorities that employ all FRS staff – both uniformed (operational staff) and non-uniformed (support staff).
In practice, many of the FRAs’ legal responsibilities and other functions are assigned to sub-committees of the authority, or to senior officers via formal schemes of delegation.
FRAs must appoint the following statutory officers who, in combination, are required to ensure that the authority conducts its affairs appropriately:
A head of paid service, who is responsible for:
- Overall corporate management and operational activity of the FRS
- Provision of professional advice to the FRA and its committees
- Ensuring a system for recording and reporting FRA decisions, together with the clerk & monitoring officer.
A chief finance officer, who is responsible for:
- Establishing a framework for the proper administration of the FRA’s financial affairs
- Setting and monitoring compliance with financial management standards
- Establishing an adequate and effective system of internal audit
- Advising on the corporate financial position, and key controls necessary for sound financial management
- Giving accurate, impartial advice and information on financial issues to the FRA, and the FRS’s senior management team.
A clerk & monitoring officer, who is responsible for:
- Standards of conduct for members of the FRA
- Maintaining the FRA’s constitution
- Ensuring a system for recording and reporting FRA decisions, together with the head of paid service
- Together with the chief finance officer, advising the FRA when their decisions are not in accordance with the policy and budget framework
- Ensuring that no action of the FRA contravenes any legislation or code of practice, or may lead to a charge of maladministration
- Preparing a formal report for the FRA, after consultation with the head of paid service and chief finance officer, where they consider that any proposal, decision or omission will give rise to unlawfulness or maladministration.
Where PCC-style FRAs are formed in the future, in accordance with provisions contained in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, PCCs will also be required to appoint individuals into each of the above statutory roles; however, they can be shared between the PCC style FRA and PCC’s office.
Handling of Complaints
Whilst the number of complaints received about FRAs and the FRSs for which they are responsible are, relatively, very low, they do occur and are handled using internal complaints procedures. The procedures in question include levels of appeal that can be pursued by complainants who are dissatisfied with an initial response. They can also refer their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman, if they remain dissatisfied, having exhausted all levels of appeal in the FRA/FRS’s complaints procedure. There is currently no equivalent to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in the fire and rescue sector.
National Leadership and Representation for Fire and Rescue Authorities
The Local Government Association (LGA) PCC plays a central role in co-ordinating the efforts of, and providing representation for, FRAs in England. The LGA’s Fire Commission provides a forum to discuss and develop policy positions on matters of common interest and concern to FRAs. The Fire Commission has a Fire Services Management Committee (FSMC) which acts on behalf of the commission.
Members of the FSMC also represent their Fire Commission colleagues on a recently formed Fire Reform Board (England). This board brings these political leaders from the LGA together with representatives from the Home Office and the National Fire Chiefs Council (formerly known as the Chief Fire Officers’ Association) to collectively and strategically shape the national FRS reform agenda.
The vast majority of the financial resources available to FRAs are provided by a combination of council tax and funding from central government. Government funding is provided through the local government finance settlement in the form of revenue support grant (a general grant to meet revenue costs) and business rate retention. Other ring-fenced grants are also provided for specific purposes. Beyond these main sources of funding, FRAs raise funds through charging for some non-emergency services, and a number also generate income from commercial trading activities.