The Legislative Framework
Like all public-sector bodies, fire and rescue authorities (FRAs), and the fire and rescue services (FRSs) for which they are responsible, are required to operate in accordance with a wide range of legislation. Much of the legislation in question applies across all public services, but there are some aspects of the legislative landscape that are particularly relevant to the fire and rescue service.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
This is the main piece of legislation under which fire and rescue services operate. The 2004 Act (amended in 2018) provides the legal basis establishing fire and rescue authorities, the political bodies responsible for overseeing the work of fire and rescue services. It also sets out details of the statutory community safety-orientated duties that fire authorities have. These are referred to as ‘core functions’ and can be summarised as follows:
- Promoting fire safety
- Extinguishing fires, and protecting life and property when fires do occur
- Minimising damage to property arising from firefighting operations
- Rescuing people involved in road traffic collisions
- Dealing with other types of emergencies, as specified by the Secretary of State in Statutory Instruments (Orders). Currently, a single Order has been issued, requiring fire authorities to make provision to attend the following types of incident:
- Chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear emergencies
- Emergencies involving the collapse of a building or other structure
- Emergencies involving trains, trams or aircraft
- Ensuring the provision of the resources necessary to meet all normal requirements (the 2004 Act does not define what constitutes ‘normal’, it is a matter for local determination)
- Ensuring necessary training for firefighters
- Ensuring that  calls for assistance can be dealt with effectively
- Obtaining information needed to respond safely and effectively to emergencies
As well as the duties outlined above, the 2004 Act provides FRAs with a power to exercise their discretion in responding to other emergencies that constitute a risk to life and/or the environment. It is under this power, for example, that fire and rescue services respond to flooding emergencies.
Beyond legislating for the duties and powers of fire and rescue authorities, the 2004 Act also introduced the Fire and Rescue National Framework. This framework sets out Government’s expectations and requirements for FRAs in England. The Secretary of State must keep the document under review, and reports to Parliament every two years on the extent to which it is being complied with.
Whilst there is no absolute legal requirement to adhere to the contents of the framework, the legislation states that FRAs ‘must have regard’ to it in carrying out their functions. In practice, this means that a compelling case would need to be made to justify any departure from the requirements laid out in the framework.
The priorities specified for FRAs in the current version of the national framework are to:
- make appropriate provision for fire prevention and protection activities and response to fire and rescue related incidents;
- identify and assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue related risks their areas face;
- collaborate with emergency services and other local and national partners to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the service they provide
- be accountable to communities for the service they provide; and
- develop and maintain a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse.
In terms of how FRAs are expected to address these priorities, there are two mechanisms incorporated in the national framework that are central to the process of their doing so. The first is integrated risk management planning (IRMP), and the second involves the preparation of an annual Statement of Assurance.
Integrated Risk Management Planning
Integrated risk management planning is a cyclical process that involves assessing community risk; deciding on steps that need to be taken to manage it efficiently and effectively; implementing the steps in question; and then reviewing their impact before commencing the cycle again. Details associated with each element of this process are required to be published by FRAs in an Integrated Risk Management Plan. Our plan is called the Community Safety Plan.
The term ‘integrated’ is used to reflect the fact that community risk is managed by balancing service delivery interventions across three disciplines.
- Prevention – the practice of trying to prevent emergencies from happening in the first place
- Protection – the practice of ensuring that fire safety standards in buildings are appropriate
- Response – the practice of minimising the impact of emergencies through well-trained, well-equipped firefighters responding to them quickly and effectively.
Where the IRMP process leads FRAs to contemplate making material changes to prevention, protection and/or response service provision, there is a requirement to undertake a public consultation on options. FRA members must then ‘conscientiously consider’ consultation responses before deciding on any changes that will be made.
Statements of Assurance
Statements of Assurance are produced annually by FRAs and published after having been subject to the Authority’s scrutiny arrangements. In accordance with the national framework, the statements “…must provide assurance [to government, members of the public and other stakeholders] on financial, governance and operational matters”.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) is the legislation under which fire safety standards in almost all buildings are controlled. ‘Single private dwellings’, i.e. people’s homes, are specifically excluded, although the common areas (access corridors, staircases, etc) in blocks of flats do fall within the scope of the RRO.
The RRO replaced previous legislative fire safety requirements with a ‘self-compliant’ regime. This is based on the principle that those responsible for the day-to-day management of buildings should also be responsible for ensuring that necessary fire safety arrangements are in place. The ‘responsible person’ is required to undertake a fire risk assessment. They must then use the findings from the assessment to decide on the steps necessary to manage fire risk down to a reasonable level.
FRAs are responsible for enforcing the RRO, and do so by undertaking risk-based inspection programmes. These involve carrying out audits of fire safety arrangements in premises that fire officers consider present the greatest risk.
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004
The Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) was introduced to establish a coherent framework within which organisations would work together to plan for dealing effectively with major emergencies.
Under the CCA, fire and rescue authorities are designated as ‘category 1 responders’. As such, they are members of multi-agency groups known as Local Resilience Forums (LRF). These LRFs – which cover geographical areas matching the boundaries of police forces – are required to collaborate in undertaking a range of functions:
- Assessing the risk of emergencies occurring, and using this risk assessment to compile a community risk register, and inform contingency planning activity:
- Putting in place emergency plans
- Putting in place business continuity management arrangements
- Putting in place arrangements to make information available to the public about civil protection matters, and maintain arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public in the event of an emergency
- Sharing information with other local responders to enhance co-ordination
- Co-operating with other local responders to enhance co-ordination and efficiency
- Providing advice and assistance to businesses and voluntary organisations about business continuity management (this applies to local authorities only).
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (CDA)
Fire and rescue authorities are designated as ‘responsible authorities’ under the CDA. This means that they are required to work alongside other responsible authorities (police, local authorities, the probation service and clinical commissioning groups) on community safety partnerships (CSP). CSPs are defined as “an alliance of organisations which generate strategies and policies, and implement actions and interventions concerning crime and disorder within their partnership area”. In this capacity, they hold a collective, statutory responsibility for reducing crime and disorder, substance misuse and re-offending in each local authority area.
In exercising their functions under the CDA, responsible authorities must have regard to the police and crime objectives set out in the police and crime plan for the police area which comprises, or includes, that local government area.
The Policing and Crime Act 2017
The Policing and Crime Act 2017 sets out a number of provisions that will impact on the way in which FRSs operate and are governed. The 2017 Act introduced a statutory requirement for fire, police and ambulance services to collaborate if it is in the interests of each of their efficiency and effectiveness to do so. Where a collaboration agreement would negatively impact efficiency, effectiveness or public safety, the duty to enter into it is set aside.
The Policing and Crime Act also established distinct routes by which Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) can become directly involved in the governance of FRS:
- By making a business case demonstrating that it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety, for a PCC to replace an existing fire authority as a ‘PCC-style FRA’. These PCC-style FRAs can be constituted using either a ‘governance model’ (where employment responsibility for FRS and police employees remains separate), or a ‘single employer model’ (where employment responsibility for all employees is combined). Such changes in governance require approval of the Home Secretary, and would lead to PCCs being re-designated as Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners.
- By PCCs being appointed as voting members of existing fire and rescue authorities. Such appointments will be subject to agreement by FRA Members, in response to a formal request from a PCC.