Speech: Reforming ‘blue light’ emergency services


I am delighted to be here with you today and I’d like to thank Capita for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak with you all on “reforming blue light services’’. In particular, I want to hear your views on collaboration and integration from the bottom up - how far can closer working drive out efficiencies? And how can working across the blue lights and the wider public sector improve services for local communities? These are topics that many of you will know I am passionate about.

One thing is for sure: that Sir Ken Knight’s Facing the future review has set the stage for the role of fire and rescue in reforming blue light services, and the level of interest and attendance at this conference is testament to the commitment of so many leaders to doing just that. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Ken for his thought-provoking review; he is an expert in his field and I was delighted with the breadth and scope of his report. I am very grateful to him for starting a debate on the challenges and opportunities facing fire and rescue authorities. Sir Ken has set us all on a direction of travel, throwing out the challenge for radical and rapid transformation in line with public expectations.


I agree with Sir Ken on the importance of collaboration with other local services in helping fire and rescue authorities to transform the way they run to meet the changing needs of communities.

Like Sir Ken, government is convinced that collaboration between services - including fire, police and ambulance - is the future of local service delivery.

As many of you know demand across the emergency services is changing:

  • police recorded crime has fallen by 38% since 2002 and the number of incidents which the fire and rescue authorities are required to attend has fallen by 40% since 2002 to 2003
  • at the same time, there has been increasing demand on the UK ambulance service with 8,490,000 emergency calls in 2011 to 2012, which represents an increase in calls of 5.1% from the previous year

We are moving to a new reality of tackling the root causes and investing in prevention and protection – and blue light services needs to be collaborating at levels to drive this change.

The best fire and rescue authorities are already beginning to collaborate with police and ambulance services - through co-location of stations and services, through sharing back office functions, and through co-responding and joining up on service delivery. They are achieving better outcomes for the public and getting more from their resources in the process.

For example:

  • in Hampshire, fire, police and the council are joining up back office services and expect to save up to £4 million a year
  • in Merseyside fire and police are working together to create a new, combined command and control centre, saving them £3.5 million and allowing them to share information and expertise, and, ultimately, provide a more integrated emergency service
  • and in Devon and Somerset, ambulance and fire services are running a joint response system to emergencies that is delivering value for money as well as improved response to the most critical incidents

You’ll have heard me mention these examples before - I’m very proud of what these authorities have been doing to transform their services - but I look forward to hearing many more examples from all of you about how you’re working together as emergency services to deliver for your communities.

I know that a lot of you are already working hard to drive collaboration forwards but I am also aware that progress across the country is patchy and I want to make sure that every authority and community can benefit. This best practice needs to become standard practice, and the public need the emergency services to consider collaboration first in all they do.

Collaboration doesn’t just happen; it requires work and commitment to establish - but the benefits for services and the taxpayer are huge.

Transformational funding

That is why government is supporting you by providing a £75 million transformation fund open to fire and rescue authorities in 2015 to 2016 - and we will be encouraging bids that help to deliver blue light collaboration, alongside other innovations to drive reform.

£30 million of the fund is resource funding, and £45 million is a capital fire efficiency fund. Both will be allocated on a bid for basis so that it can be put to use where it will make the most difference.

Alongside this the new police innovation fund, open from 2014 to 2015, will incentivise transformation, collaboration and other innovative delivery approaches, including greater collaboration across forces and other emergency services.

To date we have already provided £5.6 million in transformational funding to support emergency services collaboration projects.

So I encourage you all to bid for these funds. In particular I am keen to see bids that embrace some of the key themes in the Knight review:

*greater emergency services collaboration * initiatives that support improving local delivery * initiatives that increase on call arrangements * innovations that prioritise prevention and protection and ones which promote asset transformation

There are already some early adopters that are leading the way and government has helped them to progress their agenda. For example:

  • Lincolnshire, where fire and ambulance services provide an integrated service, with on-call firefighters delivering emergency medical support and transport. They estimate that this has helped improve survival rates following cardiac arrest by approximately 35%. And they have been awarded £500,000 through the recent Transformational Challenge Award to expand this excellent work.

  • Cornwall County Council plan to build a new tri-service station in Hayle, with space for the fire, police and ambulance services. The new station will ensure that an additional 6,500 people in Hayle can be reached by the fire service within the critical response time of 10 minutes. The Hayle project is expected to deliver £100,000 of savings a year through these efficiencies, with a return of over £2 million on investment over its lifespan. They have been awarded £100,000 through the recent Transformational Challenge Award for this project.

  • Suffolk’s fire and police already have 4 shared stations and they intend to increase by 6. It is predicted that these shared stations will result in cost savings of over £1.8 million and £1 million in avoided property costs over 10 years. A number of non-financial benefits have also been identified, including better communication between the fire and police services, the creation of additional meeting spaces for local people at the expanded sites and a reduced carbon footprint.

  • And finally in Surrey, the Surrey and East Sussex County Council and their fire rescue authorities have been sharing procurement services since 2012 - and they are now looking to go further: with a programme to bring together the fire and rescue service, the police and the county to share back office functions, IT, finance and HR. They expect to save money and deliver a more joined-up service to communities. They have been awarded £750,000 through the Transformational Challenge Award and a further £190,000 from the £20 million police innovation precursor fund for a shared IT platform between local authorities and their police service.

Shared services and procurement

So we know that where it is happening collaboration is driving change and better results for services and communities. But there is scope to go further.

For example, I hear about incidences where fire and rescue authorities are buying the same equipment separately - rather than making big savings by buying with other fire and rescue authorities or emergency services. Or where neighbouring blue light services are trying the same kinds of ideas - such as combined call and despatch centres - without getting their neighbours involved and reaping bigger benefits together.

This needs to change so that no area is being left behind.

One area that the Knight review highlighted as being in need of greater collaboration was procurement. Sir Ken found widespread duplication of effort in the design, commissioning and evaluation of fire specific products and suggested that fire and rescue authorities should focus their efforts on improving procurement under these areas.

Fire and rescue authorities should - without doubt - be exploring collaborative procurement with other fire and rescue authorities and emergency services to drive efficiencies - especially given that the requirements of individual fire and rescue authorities across England are not different enough to warrant going it alone.

Recently we published the fire and rescue procurement aggregation and collaboration report, the result of a joint research project with the Chief Fire Officers’ Association. The report found that there is a compelling case for collaborative procurement. The sector spends £127 million every year on fire and rescue specific products such as clothing and vehicles; collaboration on this portion alone of their £600 million total spend could achieve huge 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.


And I could not go without mentioning the recent major flooding across the country, which has severely tested all of our emergency services. I believe that they have responded exceptionally well to that test, and key to this has been working together to reduce water levels and help communities to cope.

I would like to praise those fire and rescue authorities who worked together to tackle the floods, for example:

  • in Somerset, where 21 separate fire and rescue authorities supported the effort
  • and in Berkshire, where 11 fire and rescue authorities supported operations in Datchet and Wraysbury and over 100 people were rescued as a result

Direction of travel

I have set the scene on the great work that you in the emergency services are already doing to reform the way the services work, and the resources that government is making available to make sure that you can take this even further.

I have seen some excellent examples of what can be done - and I am keen to see more.

More sharing of offices, services and staff - more joining up between senior management - more cutting duplication and responding together to emergencies - and, most importantly, more planning and working together to prevent future emergencies and to help communities all around the country to live safer, healthier lives.

Like all public services, the emergency services must seize the opportunity to transform to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Even without the evident financial drivers, the efficient delivery of local services designed around the needs of local communities has to be the right way forward. And collaboration lies firmly at the heart of this transformation agenda.

And that is why I would like to make the challenge to all of you here today to consider what more you can do to make this happen?

I am very clear that local areas know best the solutions that work for their areas, and that is why I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas and working with you all to drive this forward.

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