Fire chief’s uncertainty over up coming inspection

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Tyne and Wear’s fire service could be forced to foot the bill for a new regime of government inspectors.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) is expected to be visited by assessors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in October.

But as performance review edges closer, firefighters are still waiting to find out exactly when they will arrive and how much it could cost in the future.

Speaking at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority (TWFRA) Policy and Performance Committee, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Chris Lowther said: “We could have further budgetary pressure based on [these inspections].

“The question we’ve asked, which we haven’t had an answer for yet, is who inspects the inspectorate, who ensures they are value for money?

“Our budget can’t afford to be arbitrarily reduced.”

Earlier in the meeting, CFO Lowther said cuts to TWFRS’s budget since 2010 had led to the loss of 131 firefighters and threatened its work preventing fires and said he hoped this would be taken into account.

HMICFRS funds its inspections of police forces by ‘top slicing’ their budgets and it is not yet known whether the same practice could be extended to fire and rescue services in the future.

“This seems devoid of financial context,” said Coun Nick Forbes, TWFRA’s vice chairman and leader of Newcastle City Council.

“The scale of cuts to fire and rescue authorities has been different around the country and the things done in response have been different.

“There seem to be no recognition of what’s been done over the last eight years.”

An HMICFRS spokesperson said: “Funding for our inspections comes from the Home Office budget so that we can determine how efficiently and effectively Fire and Rescue Services are run, on behalf of the public.

“Inspection is designed to promote improvements, some of which could lead to improved efficiency of fire and rescue services. Each fire and rescue service will be inspected once in an 18-month period.”

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service