Reforms to Fire and Rescue Service Audit

The new independent advisory unit within Government will place less emphasis on formal front-line inspection.

Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said the unit would work with Chief Fire Officers and their staff, both supporting and, where necessary, challenging them on issues such as their state of preparedness and their approach to managing risk.

The Government will advertise shortly for a senior figure with experience of leading a Fire and & Rescue Service (F&RS) to head the new unit.

Mr Ewing said:

"We must ensure that Fire and Rescue services are well managed, safe and fit for purpose - and that public money is being used properly.

"Much of this was reflected in the role of the previous Fire Service Inspectorate. However there was an overlap with other scrutiny bodies which meant that there was a risk of excessive scrutiny impacting on service delivery.

"The new advisory unit will change how Government works with Scotland's fire and rescue services, in line with the recommendations of Professor Crerar's scrutiny review. His review states that responsibility for compliance and performance should rest with service providers.

"It is absolutely right that performance management of fire and rescue services sits best with the local authorities who are responsible for the services and accountable to local communities that depend on them.

"The Accounts Commission also has scrutinising duties and powers for fire and rescue authorities and boards, including best value, annual audit and national studies. Audit Scotland will continue to carry out work on its behalf.

"I pay tribute to the Inspectorate's work and the huge contribution it has made over many years to delivering the Fire and Rescue Service we are so proud of today."

David Dalziel, Secretary of CFOAS, said:

"The Association agrees that the findings of the Crerar Review are helpful in reducing the unnecessary duplication of external scrutiny in the public sector. We look forward to the establishment of the new fire and rescue advisory unit.

"Scotland's fire and rescue services are focussed on reducing risk and making Scotland a stronger and safer nation. CFOAS is keen to work constructively with the head of the new advisory unit and other stakeholders in protecting communities across Scotland."

Roddy Robertson, FBU executive council member for Scotland, added:

"HM Inspectorate has always been independent from the policy makers; been able to assess and challenge performance; and has had direct access to Ministers, if required.

"The new Advisory Unit maintains these vital elements, which is crucial to maintaining the confidence of service professionals and the public alike. We look forward to working with the Unit in the months and years to come and hope that the service as a whole will benefit from this new approach."

The 2007 local government settlement recognises the leading role that local authorities have in relation to service delivery. Local authorities also lead in relation to delivering Best Value.

COSLA Community Wellbeing & Health spokesperson Cllr Harry McGuigan commented:

"In September 2007 we welcomed the Crerar report as a positive one. Today's announcement is another step toward reducing the burden of external scrutiny.

"The Fire Service is a local service and accountable to the community it serves. Quite rightly local authorities should have responsibility in managing the delivery of Best Value. This is a step in the right direction and clearly we are still in discussions in terms of the longer term arrangements for scrutiny of all publicly funded organisations."

The new arrangements follow the Crerar review's call for more emphasis on standard-setting, self-assessment and accountability discussions around agreed outcomes, rather than relying on external scrutiny to improve performance.

Ministers remain ultimately accountable to Parliament for the performance of the Scottish F&RSs and so the Government must continue to have access to independent, professional advice from those with experience working in the sector.

Jeff Ord, the previous Chief Inspector, retired on 30 November 2007. The post of Head of the Fire and Rescue Service Advisory Unit will be advertised shortly and the permanent staff who previously worked for the Inspectorate will transfer to the new Unit. A number of staff were seconded to the Inspectorate from the F&RSs, some of whom will be retained depending on the unit work programme to be agreed with the head of the Unit. Monitoring of performance against agreed outcomes will fall to local authorities and scrutiny bodies such as Audit Scotland, with support from staff in the Advisory unit as appropriate.

The Crerar Review of Regulation, Audit, Inspection and Complaints Handling of Public Services in Scotland was published in September 2007. It concluded that the role of external scrutiny was to provide independent assurance that services are well managed, safe and fit for purpose and that public money is being used properly. It also suggested that the way external scrutiny has been introduced in recent years has not always been clear, with increased inspection, audit and regulation, partly due to a lack of confidence in service delivery, absence of robust performance management, and partly because of new priorities. The Government's response was published on 17th January.

The local government settlement, announced on 13 December 2007, heralded a new partnership between the Scottish Government and local authorities. Councils have been given more freedom in spending the money allocated to them. In return, councils are required to deliver outcomes agreed with central government which reflect shared priorities to make Scotland wealthier and fairer, greener, smarter, safer and healthier.

Ministers will consult shortly on some minor legislative changes required to reflect the new arrangements.

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