Fire chiefs in Tyne and Wear spent £140,000 preparing for new inspections

Preparing for a new regime of government inspections cost fire chiefs in Tyne and Wear more than £140,000, it has been revealed.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue HQ
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue HQ

In 2019, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) was put through its paces under a scheme testing the performance of England’s 45 fire brigades.

And although Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS) marked Tyne and Wear’s firefighters ‘Good’ in all areas, the watchdog has been criticised for failing to take account of financial challenges.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on [in Tyne and Wear] is being able to tell a story about how much prevention we do,” said Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and vice chairman of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, which oversees the work of TWFRS.

“But there seems to be very little understanding that it is not just about risk reduction, but also about understanding the types of risks in an area.

“And despite the acknowledgement that there is no long term funding settlement, there is also no recommendation to the government to put fire and rescue services on a firmer financial footing.”

Coun Forbes, who was speaking at a meeting of the fire authority’s Policy and Performance Committee, added the £141,081 cost of preparing for the inspection was not recognised by the government.

The inspectorate’s report on the ‘State of Fire and Rescue’ was published earlier this year and called for ‘significant reform’ to modernise brigades.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer John Baines said the report had also pointed out ‘considerable financial disparity’ among parts of the country.

He added: “It recognises where some fire authorities have been protected others have had to make considerable savings and this authority [Tyne and Wear] has had one of the biggest reductions in spending power of any across England.”

But Coun Forbes insisted the inspectorate’s first round of assessments had highlighted inconsistencies.

“The jury is still out on the inspectorate,” he added, “time will tell whether it is intended to help forces improve or whether it is a tool for the government to hit some fire authorities harder than others.”