‘Leave us alone’ - fire chiefs slam government reform plans following latest successful brigade inspection

Fire bosses in Tyne and Wear have pleaded with the government to “leave us alone” after inspectors praised the region’s services.

By Daniel Holland
Friday, 5th August 2022, 2:43 pm

Bosses at the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority have praise the “exceptional workforce with an exceptional leadership team” at the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS), after it was rated as ‘good’ by government inspectors.

A report released last month (July) by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) praised the organisation for having one of the fastest response times in England, reacting well to the Covid pandemic, and responding “positively and proactively” to recommendations following the Grenfell tragedy.

And member of the authority, which oversee the brigade, have said the report shows the government should drop major reform plans.

Firefighters in Tyne and Wear faced a busy period during July's heatwave.

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A Fire Reform White Paper set out in May includes plans to “improve accountability” by putting responsibility for fire services into the hands of a single elected official, such as a mayor.

Sunderland City Councillor Phil Tye, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, said the latest inspection result was “an absolute credit to the leadership and all the staff involved”, adding: “What we have here is a fire authority that is performing exceptionally well and the government needs to take note of that.

“Why would you fix something that is not broken? There are plenty of other things to be fixing right now.”

Cllr Phil Tye.

South Tyneside councillor Wilf Flynn added: “This report should land on the minister’s desk who is considering the future and they should leave us alone.”

It is the second inspection in a row that the service has been graded ‘good’, with inspectors reporting that Tyne and Wear has the quickest average response time to house fires of anywhere in the country at 5 minutes and 56 seconds.

The findings also concluded that the service “has secured a sustainable financial future” and improved since 2018, but added improvement was needed to promote diversity and attract more staff from minority backgrounds.

Newcastle Lib Dem councillor Tom Woodwark said it was “disappointing” to see the criticism of equality and diversity issues, though the city’s deputy Labour council leader Karen Kilgour took issue with the inspection’s findings.

She said: “I am surprised rather than disappointed to see the ‘requires improvement’ for diversity in the report - from what I have seen I think we have done quite well in that area.”

Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther said: “This independent inspection process validates some of the fantastic work going on across the service and confirms we are among the top performing in the country.

“But we are always looking to get better and the inspection process highlights some areas where we can do even more for both our workforce and the people of Tyne and Wear.

“During the 2018 / 19 inspection we were advised of 14 areas for improvement and in this most recent inspection report that number is down to eight.

“Steps have already been taken to address some of the areas of improvement highlighted by the inspectorate and we hope that reassures residents and businesses across the region.

“Our people are the most valued part of our service and I am so proud of the work they do every single day.”