Avon Fire Authority approves action plan

At an Extraordinary Meeting of Avon Fire Authority held today (Thursday 27 July) Members approved an action plan in response to the criticisms made in a Home Office report.

Following the publication of the Statutory Inspection on Wednesday 19 July the Chair of Avon Fire Authority, Councillor Donald Davies, had been working with senior managers to develop 63 recommendations addressing criticisms made in the report.

During a three hour meeting Members heard representation from Members of the public before debating the Authority’s response to the inspection.

Members voted to approve 62 of 63 suggested actions and five additional resolutions – the only amendment was the removal of a recommendation to hold discussions with the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to review the potential of passing governance of Avon Fire & Rescue Service to the PCC. Members did however retain a suggestion to consider further collaboration opportunities with all blue light services, including Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

Speaking after the meeting Chair of Avon Fire Authority, Councillor Donald Davies said: “Without exception Members understood the challenge that lies ahead and there was a desire to work together in the interest of the four unitary areas we serve.

“I have been clear we cannot ignore the criticisms made in the report, nor seek to defend some of the mistakes made in the past, however our focus has to be on the future and how we ensure these things can’t happen again.

“We heard powerful representations from members of the public and I am grateful to them for providing their input which will help us as we begin the process of change.

“Members voted in support of the plan which we will immediately begin to put into action. I have already met with representatives from National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and the Local Government Association (LGA) to seek advice and support. We have agreed the Chief Fire Officer of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, Stewart Edgar, will begin to provide us with immediate assistance in the role of Interim Peer Support.

“In the continued absence of the Chief Fire Officer we will now begin the process to appoint an Interim Chief Fire Officer. The General Purposes Committee of Avon Fire Authority will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow (Friday 28 July) to begin this process.

“In addition I will also be setting up an Independent Improvement Board to drive the changes we need to make and report our progress against the targets we set. We will be working to appoint an external chair of suitable standing and experience, and I am keen that this board should also include representation from our local communities.

“In the light of the announcement yesterday by the Police & Crime Commissioner and the leaders of the four unitary authorities there was a great deal of debate about the future constitution of the Fire Authority and how that can best serve local people. We need more clarity on that proposal as this came as a surprise to the Authority.

“Members have expressed their wish to be given the opportunity to make the changes that need to happen in regard to the governance of this organisation and we have a clear plan to achieve that.

“Finally I would once again like place on record my thanks and gratitude, and that of the full Fire Authority, to firefighters and support staff at Avon Fire & Rescue Service. The report was critical of our governance and senior management and not of the 800–strong workforce. We know they will feel bruised by the events of the last week, but despite that they continue to provide an essential public service of the very highest standard.”