Developing Blue Light partnerships and increasing interoperability

I am delighted to be here today and thank you for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak with you all on ‘Developing Blue Light partnerships and Increasing interoperability’. This conference comes at an opportune moment as there is no doubt in my mind that we are seeing a noticeable shift by the emergency services towards greater partnership working. This is reflected by the winning bids for the Fire Transformation Fund and also in today’s publication of the National Overview by the Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group. I will say more about these shortly. As we all know, Sir Ken Knight’s Facing the future review, published last year, set out a compelling argument for fast and radical transformation in the delivery of fire and rescue services. Sir Ken was clear about the potential he saw for greater collaboration with the other blue lights services. In July, in a written ministerial statement, the Secretary of State set out the government’s approach to meeting the opportunities and challenges highlighted by Sir Ken. High on our list of priorities is to encourage and support greater collaboration between fire and local authorities, and between fire, police and ambulance services to deliver better outcomes for the public.

Collaboration - support and encouragement

We all know that the call upon our emergency services is changing and changing fast. And many of you are already responding to those changes. We will support you in those endeavours to make collaboration a reality. I recognise this is not easy to achieve - the 3 services operate independently of one another and are structured very differently. The benefits however are obvious. They are not just financial - although at a time of pressures on the public purse, ensuring that services are delivered cost-effectively is of critical importance. But collaboration is also about delivering improved services to the public. That is why we have a duty to make this work. I also recognise that some have questioned the closer working between the 3 departments, let me assure you, it is a common goal between me and my ministerial colleagues to support the emergency services to drive out efficiencies enabling you to provide more effective services to the communities you serve. I am pleased that others have also nailed their colours to the mast. The joint statement from the Chief Fire Officers Association, Association of Ambulance Chief Executives and Chief Police Officers committing them to working together to explore collaborative working is a very positive step forward.

Cross-sector emergency services collaboration working group

I am proud that the 3 departments have given practical support to that commitment from the sectors by jointly funding the new sector-led Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group with representatives from fire, police, police and crime commissioners, ambulance and local government. The group’s aim is to provide strategic leadership, co-ordination and an overview of current and future collaboration between the emergency services and partners. I encourage you to work with them in taking this agenda forward. As mentioned earlier, the National Overview published by the group exemplifies some excellent collaboration taking place across the country. However it has also brought home what we have known for some time - the picture across the country is patchy. That is why the working group has commissioned research to evaluate existing collaboration projects to help build an evidence base. I would urge all of you who have embarked upon or are thinking of doing something transformative to shout about it loud and proud. Inform the working group and the researchers and support them to gather the much needed evidence. The funding will also support the working group to establish a network of collaboration leads from all 3 services and from all areas across the country. The group are due to report back to me and my ministerial colleagues before the end of this Parliament and are committed to sharing good practice throughout the sector. That includes highlighting any steps government may need to take in supporting you to remove any barriers.

Examples of where collaboration is happening

I’d now like to highlight some of the examples of where collaboration is already happening:
  • My department’s funding of over £450,000 has supported Lincolnshire fire and rescue services Joint Ambulance Conveyance Project, run in partnership with East Midlands Ambulance Service and Lincolnshire Integrated Voluntary Emergency Service, where on-call fire-fighters respond to medical emergencies. This collaborative approach will help speed up the transport of patients to hospital whilst ensuring the highest level of clinical intervention possible. It will have a real and important impact on people’s lives, supporting better recovery and improved chances of survival for patients.
  • In Norfolk there is a shared fire/police station in Sheringham, accommodating a number of emergency service teams: local ambulance crews, on-call firefighters, the neighbourhood policing team and the coastguard. This has increased efficiencies from joint procurement, and reduced the costs of property management and utilities.
I know you will be hearing more examples later from Hampshire fire and rescue service and their partner South Central Ambulance Service, and from Northamptonshire police on their collaboration. I recently had the pleasure to speak at an event hosted by Hampshire who showcased their impressive examples of collaborative working.

Collaborative procurement

Procurement is a key area where the rewards of better collaboration are potentially huge. The Fire and rescue procurement aggregation and collaboration report, the result of a joint research project with the Chief Fire Officers’ Association found that the sector spends £127 million every year on fire and rescue specific products such as clothing and vehicles. Collaboration on this portion of spending alone could achieve savings of at least £18 million. In addition, if products were standardised it is likely that even bigger savings could be realised, not least if non-fire specific goods and services were bought together with other public bodies. I am pleased to say that the Chief Fire Officers Association have taken on board the recommendations from the report. Under the leadership of Ann Millington, they have not only developed a national procurement strategy but are also considering creating a national fire back office which could mean that procurement, and other policy areas would be co-ordinated nationally. And I am pleased to say that my department recently awarded £370,000 from the Fire Transformation Fund to support this work.

Transformational funding

Fire Transformation Fund

This leads us well into other projects that have received funding through the Transformation Fund. I recently announced the successful bidders for the £75 million allocated to support fire and rescue authorities in driving efficiencies and transformation. Fire authorities have forecast that the successful projects will save taxpayers over £300 million. And of the 37 winning bids, 31 supporting collaboration have been successful, injecting over £65 million to support those projects. To give you a better idea of what those successful bids look like:
  • over 60% include an official police or ambulance service partner
  • over a third will enable buildings to be shared with other emergency services either through sharing stations or headquarters
  • others will share back office functions or join up on service delivery
This is exactly the sort of innovation that is needed across the public sector. The successful fire and rescue authorities will be sending me regular updates on how their projects are progressing and I will also be asking them to share their progress with other authorities and via their websites.

Other government funding

Recently the Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins announced that 77 local authorities would also share £8.6 million investment from the Transformational Challenge Award as they join up services and reduce costs for taxpayers. The winning local authorities predicted that their proposals would save more than £10 for every £1 of Transformation Challenge Award money invested.

Police Innovation Fund

In addition, the Home Office is providing £9.2 million of funding to support 12 locally-led emergency services collaboration projects in 2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015.

Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme

Then there is the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, a cross-government programme established to develop the latest mobile communications for our emergency services. As many of you will know, all 3 emergency services currently use Airwave which is a secure and resilient mobile communications system with high levels of coverage. However, since it was installed in the early 2000s it hasn’t developed technically, and it is looking increasingly outdated compared to the modern smart-phones and 4G networks that so many of us use in our private lives. The new network to replace Airwave is being developed in close partnership with the emergency services and crucially, will add broadband data capabilities alongside voice communications. The government remains on track to deliver this key part of our national infrastructure by the end of 2016, giving the emergency services the modern communications network they need to help protect the public and save lives.

Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme

I know you will be hearing about the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (or JESIP) later today. But I would like to say a few words about this important programme. As many of you know, JESIP has been delivered by the emergency services, with full government support, over the last 2 years. The primary purpose of JESIP was better joint operational effectiveness. Cost-effective gains in interoperability and operational effectiveness have been achieved through publishing joint guidance and increased emphasis on joint training and exercising. JESIP has been a vital initiative and I believe that other important initiatives aimed at increasing collaboration between the blue light services can harness the momentum of JESIP moving forwards.


In a time of reduced public spending it is even more important than ever to think about collaborative working and leadership with other emergency and public services. Of course there will be difficulties and frustrations along the way – and government recognises that one size does not fit all – but if some of you can achieve transformational change then I strongly believe so can everyone. We know that a lot of good work is already happening but there is no time for complacency. I would urge you to continue the positive work and most importantly I would urge you to share the learning – the working group and the Public Service Transformation Network will help you get your message across. So the question being posed today - What does the national blue light collaboration picture look like? I think it is fair to say that it remains a work in progress but there are positive signs emerging across the country. And government has set the scene by offering the support, commitment and resources. It’s now time for action. Thank you.
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