Urgent change is needed to improve the performance of fire services in parts of England, a watchdog has warned.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) identified “some encouraging improvements” when it scrutinised 15 fire and rescue services but added that “far more needed to be done to reduce risks to public safety”.
Concerns were also raised about a “toxic” culture in some fire services.
Inspectors found Gloucestershire’s fire service – which was put into special measures earlier this month – needed to “urgently improve” amid serious concerns about its ability to keep people safe.
Worryingly, too many services don't prioritise fire prevention activity enough – this is crucial for public safety
London Fire Brigade needed to “improve in several important areas and has not made enough progress since its last inspection”, the watchdog said.
The service in Essex was told it needed to “continue working to improve” while there were concerns that standards in Staffordshire had “deteriorated” in a number of areas.
The West Sussex service had “improved markedly” but still had “areas that needed attention”, while Lancashire was praised for its “excellent performance”.
– Six out of the 15 services assessed do “not prioritise fire prevention activity enough”.
– Six new “causes of concern” were raised with London, Gloucestershire, Devon and Somerset, Norfolk and Northamptonshire services because of poor performance on factors including fire prevention, values and culture and fairness and diversity.
– Fire services are generally well prepared to respond to routine and major emergency incidents.
Inspector of fire and rescue services Roy Wilsher said: “We have continued to see a general positive shift in services prioritising protection.
“The sector needs to continue this focus so the public can experience long-term safety benefits. This must include sustained Government funding to make sure the number of competent fire protection staff continues to increase.
“However, our second round of inspections has continued to identify issues that need urgent attention.
“It’s troubling that some services have failed to act on the causes of concern we issued in 2018 and 2019.
“Worryingly, too many services don’t prioritise fire prevention activity enough – this is crucial for public safety.”
Tam McFarlane, the Fire Brigades Union national officer, said: “Firefighters will all tell you the same thing: cuts to resources mean that fire and rescue performance is declining rapidly.
“It’s particularly shocking that eight of the 15 services inspected don’t have enough fire protection staff to carry out vital fire safety work and that services are over reliant on overtime to provide operational response, a direct impact of the cuts made to funding and firefighter jobs.
“These reports also make it blatantly clear that there are serious issues when it comes to the management culture of fire and rescue services.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This report shows that, while the majority of fire and rescue services are equipped to respond to emergencies, improvement is still needed. We expect services take decisive action to respond to the Inspectorate findings.
“We have brought forward the most comprehensive set of fire reforms for decades, with the launch of the Fire Reform White Paper this May. This work aims to bring forward further improvements to deliver higher standards and consistency across fire and rescue services to keep the public safe.”
A spokesman for mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The mayor welcomes the findings of the new HMICFRS report and is satisfied that the brigade and commissioner recognise the scale of the task at hand, are open to change and committed to delivering the improvements needed.”
Services in Humberside, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire were also inspected.