Impact case study
Improving Policy, Delivery and Assurance in Fire and Rescue Services
Unit(s) of assessment: Business and Management Studies
Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society
School: Nottingham Business School
Since 2010, research led by Professor Peter Murphy has established that national and local policy, the configuration and delivery of fire and rescue services and the level of public assurance that citizens have the right to expect have all (collectively) significantly deteriorated, were sub-optimally configured, and were not meeting statutory obligations as a result of central government policy decisions and long-term financial reductions. The organisation, configuration and delivery of Fire and Rescue Services in England and the experience of the public who are protected by the service has been significantly changed by Professor Murphy and other NTU researchers since 2010.
The research has directly generated substantial changes in:
- Primary and secondary legislation; central and local public policy and government guidance explicitly (but not limited to) Chapters 2-4 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 which relate to Fire Services.
- Public assurance, accountability and transparency arrangements within the sector, including (but not limited to) the creation of new national institutions, and new national delivery frameworks.
Between 2010 and 2015 funding from central government was substantially reduced in real terms despite fire and rescue services having a statutory duty to continuously improve their activities, to protect the public and to provide value for money. In 2015, NBS together with Newcastle University Business School were commissioned by the National Audit Office (NAO) to undertake a review of the performance of 4 major locally delivered services between 2010-2015 namely, local authority services, healthcare, the police, and fire and rescue services. As a result of their findings Professor Murphy was then specifically commissioned to research and evaluate all available evidence (academic, official and empirical) on the policy, performance and assurance of fire and rescue services, and in particular the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the performance management regime in place from 2010-2015. He found that:
- The evidence and information available for decision making had deteriorated
- The performance regime for co-ordinating effective action was no longer fit for purpose
- External scrutiny, inspection and assurance arrangements were ineffective
His research and findings scoped, framed and directed subsequent NAO and Public Accounts Committee reports; he personally quality-assured the NAO‘s research, provided new independent evidence and reviewed and revised the conclusions and recommendations in the NAO’s final draft report and slide pack for publication. The NAO report established that national (and local) public policy lacked assurance; and credible evidence upon which to base decisions. Fire services were not strategically aligned with other emergency services or with other key stakeholders such as local government and the NHS. More specifically, he found:
- The configuration and deployment of services was sub-optimal, inefficient, and less effective than it could (and should) have been
- This was primarily the fault of central government as policy makers and co-deliverers (primarily the Department of Communities and Local Government but also HM Treasury), rather than the local Fire and Rescue Services.
- The research demonstrated systematic and systemic failure as a result of inadequate performance and financial management arrangements at national and local levels.
These fundamental inadequacies were further reinforced by counter-factual research led by Murphy in Scotland, which was corroborated by parallel research by Audit Scotland. Following devolution Murphy showed Scottish services continued to improve their performance with better outcomes and continuous efficiencies despite equivalent financial constraints and that the English experience could have been both avoided and/or significantly mitigated.
The policing and Crime Act of 2017 was the biggest and most significant overhaul of the sector since the 2004 Fire and Rescue Act
Murphy’s research demonstrated that government policy and fire service practice between 2010 and 2015 had significantly reduced the efficiency and effectiveness of the services and compromised the safety of the public. Services were less effective individually and when collaborating with other services. This reduced the safety of the public and the ‘value for money’ achieved from public spending. The government accepted every recommendation NAO and PAC reports and explicitly recognized the problems as the responsibility of central government, that required specific action from government.
Chapters 2-4 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 together with secondary legislation and government guidance directly addressed fire and rescue services and the inadequacies found by Murphy and reported through the NAO and PAC. The Act promised a new national policy and performance management regime; proposals for new databases; a national Standards Authority (to develop and quality assure data) new arrangements for improving public assurance including a new independent inspectorate, all explicitly based on NTU’s research and recommendations.
Development of the 2018 National Framework
The research demonstrated the fundamental inadequacy of the 2012 National Framework and the government replaced this with the 2018 Framework to implement the act and give effect to NTU recommendations to:
- improve governance and accountability
- establish HMICFRS and an external inspection regime
- introduce a national Standards Board and new professional standards
- and develop new performance data and improve transparency.
Improving Evidence and Information
A new data and information research programme was established by the National Fire Chiefs Council in 2018 and a national ‘Standards Board’ was established in 2019.. NTU was commissioned to provide a national review of local community risk methodologies and this currently underpins all seven projects in the NFCC research programme on re-assessing community risks.
Creating a new independent inspectorate and inspection regime
Murphy had been calling for the re-establishment of an independent external inspectorate for Fire and rescue Services since 2011. This recommendation was reflected in his report for the NAO and the subsequent in the PAC report. England and Wales (though not Scotland and N Ireland) were the only developed countries without an independent fire inspectorate. In July 2018, the government created Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. The first round of new inspections of all fire services were in 2018/2019. They provided detailed evidence at the local level that confirmed Murphy’s findings at national level.
Informing legislative and policy review in Scotland
The English research was complemented by counter factual evidence from Scotland. Since 2011, Scotland had developed radically different policy, delivery and assurance arrangements. NTU’s comparative evaluation of the two regimes strengthened the evidence in England and informed the legislative and policy review in Scotland. It showed that despite a national structural re-organisation and having to absorb similar levels of central government funding reductions the Scottish fire Service continued to improve its performance and delivery, improved the safety of communities and the public and provided better value for money.
- Murphy, P., Ferry, L., Glennon, R. and Greenhalgh, K., 2019. Public service accountability: rekindling a debate. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.This book brings together research findings on the four services individually and collectively since 2010. It evaluates them against a conceptual framework developed originally as part of the research for the NAO but subsequently refined in this book.
- Ferry, L., and Murphy 2015 A Comparative Review of Financial Sustainability, Accountability and Transparency of Local Public Service Bodies in England Under Austerity. This is the original report by professor Laurence Ferry (now at Durham University) and Professor Murphy to the NAO on the four locally delivered services
- Murphy, P. 2015. Briefing Paper: Comments on forthcoming NAO national report on the financial sustainability of fire and rescue services. The draft Local Government report, the draft Value for Money Report and the proposed NAO presentation draft slide pack to accompany publication and dissemination. This is one of the series of NBS reports (the process was iterative by nature) commissioned by the NAO.
- Murphy, P., Lakoma, K., Eckersley, P. and Glennon R., (2020). Rebuilding the fire and rescue services: policy, delivery and assurance. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited. This book provides both a critical overview of the new performance management regime in Fire and Rescue Services and the three key aspects that were significantly changed by the 2017 Act, namely the evidential basis for policy delivery and public assurance arrangements in the services: the 2018 national Framework and the new Inspectorate and Inspection Regime
- Murphy, P., Lakoma, K., Greenhalgh, K., and Taylor, L. (2019). A comparative appraisal of recent and proposed changes to the Fire and rescue services in England and Scotland. Chapter 13 in P. Wankheda, McCann, L. and Murphy, P. Critical Perspectives on the Management and Organisation of Emergency Services. Abingdon Routledge. This is one of the 3 research outputs from the comparative study between England and Scotland that provided counter factual evidence for the case study.