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Review highlights pitfalls of the British Fire and Rescue service

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Posted on 22/05/2013 by Wayne Brophy FCILT

A government-commissioned review has found that national fire and rescue services could be streamlined to save British taxpayers as much as £200 million a year. The report, entitled Facing the Future, has blown the whistle on excessive spending. Despite the fact that call-outs and incidents have dropped 40 per cent over the last decade, the budget for firefighting services has remained largely the same.

Sir Ken Knight, author of the review and former firefighter, said: “Services continue to spend according to the budget they are given rather than the risks they have to manage.”

Not only are excessive firefighter numbers putting unnecessary strain on British taxpayers, redundant services and duplicate sourcing of products are costing more than they should. Nearly 50 fire and rescue authorities were found to have unique operational procedures and management structures, resulting in excessive spending across the board.

Furthermore, Britain’s fire and rescue service does not benefit from mandatory national framework contracts for procurement, like police forces do. Authorities that reject the Cabinet Office procurement pipelines, established to help organisations reap long-term savings, are seeing costs spiral out of control.

Only a handful of authorities had turned to the procurement pipelines in effort to streamline the process, while many opted instead to start from scratch in sourcing the exact same products. “The lack of learning between fire and rescue authorities leads to an authority testing and approving a new product or new design even where it has already been tested and approved in another authority,” said Sir Knight in the report.

The severity of overspending varies throughout the country. In some areas, the cost per head of providing the service is double that of others, regardless of whether the region is rural or urban. The review estimates that if all authorities can trim their budgets to the national average, annual savings could amount to £200 million.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, however – a handful of authorities throughout the UK are working together to reduce expenditures. For example, several authorities have collaborated on contracts for protective gear and specialist training, saving approximately £900,000 since the 2010 to 2011 fiscal year. If more services co-operate and share contracts for essential products and development, those savings could add up over time, ultimately benefitting British taxpayers and the country as a whole.

The review highlights pressing issues for not just the national fire and rescue service, but for all British organisations. Streamlined procurement processes can drastically reduce overall expenditure, therefore encouraging business success, growth, and longevity.

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