Reading the Sunday newspapers this week had something of a familiar feel to it. Familiar as in a ‘once a year’ feel I hasten to add. As the school summer holidays draw to a close the newspapers are full of articles looking forward to the new parliamentary session, the new TV season and the sporting events that will be crammed into the Autumn. I’m pretty sure that these articles were written weeks ago, allowing the junior journalists to write the copy through the ‘silly season’, and for the serious, major league hacks to squeeze an extra week away from the office.It got me thinking about what we have to look forward to in West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service as 2015 enters the home straight and the holidays become a distant memory, though maybe ‘look forward to’ isn’t necessarily the most appropriate phrase in some of these cases!
Most pressing, given the deadline of the end of this week (4 September) is the Yorkshire devolution deal. Even at this late stage the ‘footprint’ around which the deal will be based is yet to be agreed, or made public at least. There was an interesting article in the YORKSHIRE EVENING POST recently which outlines the current position. According to the YEP the Greater Yorkshire deal is a non-starter and most probably we are looking at something based around the current West Yorkshire, with the possibility of a few council additions. How will the Chancellor receive this? Is it ‘under ambitious’? Will there be a mayor? What will be the implications for WYFRS? I guess that we will have to wait and see.
Sometime in the autumn we also expect to hear about the Government proposals for changing the role of the locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners. It is less clear when we will hear their plans, though news will probably be linked to publication of the new Policing and Criminal Justice Bill, and it is less than clear what the announcement will be. The Minister with responsibility for Fire has been quoted as saying in a reply to a letter from Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne, that Government have ruled out “impos[ing] a PCC take-over of fire and rescue services”. This leaves open a number of other possibilities, as I’ve written out before it is probably most significant that the Minister rules out ‘imposing’ any changes, this leaves scope for a range of other ‘voluntary’ arrangements in local areas. Any decisions in this area will inevitably be linked to the devolution and mayoral outcomes.
Jumping forward to 25 November, we will hear the outcomes of the current, and ongoing, Comprehensive Spending Review 2015. This may be where the decisions on the devolution bids across the UK are confirmed, and it will also signal any substantial changes to the funding arrangements for Fire & Rescue Services. Hopefully we will see some longer term funding arrangements that allow us to effectively plan budgets up to the next General Election.
Around the same period of the year we will also be concluding work on some of the Efficiency Options and moving toward decisions about which ones will be taken forward. Between now and then there continues to be opportunity for engagement, and we remain committed to keeping staff updated as we progress.
Less time specific, but we will also continue to feel the changes in focus as we add more overtly health related projects to our service delivery. I’ve blogged about some of the opportunities that exist in previous blogs, and hopefully we can now start to make some progress on these initiatives. There is work to be done in developing new ways of working where these become appropriate and necessary, but I sense that many staff are excited by new opportunities and see the value in increasing our relevance and role in wider society. Most particularly we seek to progress work linked to targeting the elderly and those with long term conditions, and to help prevent them coming to harm in their homes – be that from fire or other hazards. Hopefully we will best utilise partnerships to deliver these initiatives and do something where by working together in a very focussed way we deliver a real and sustained change for the better.
My penultimate issue is one over which we have little, or no, control. It is with this issue in mind that I qualified my earlier statement about what we have to ‘look forward’ to. The news is full of reports about terrorism, and terrorist related events. The threat is clear, and ever present. It is, in the main, linked to the issues around Syria and the so called Islamic State, or Daish/ISIS/ISIL etc. Internationally we have recently seen terrorist events in Tunisia and in France. We have seen the first major (largely foiled) attack on a moving train, and the recent DISCOVERY of a huge weapons import in Kent reminds us of the vulnerability to attack which we are currently exposed to. There remains no time for complacency as we continue to face this threat and make efforts to protect ourselves from it, and in the case of the FRS prepare to respond to it.
Finally, the changes in Management Board will begin to take effect as we are joined by our new Chief Employment Services Officer, and the ongoing handover of references takes place as we prepare for January 2016 and a new structure with less uniformed Principal Officers.
There will, I am absolutely sure, be other things that come up that I haven’t written about. At least we can prepare for those that we know about, allowing us to more effectively respond to those which we don’t know about.