It has become abundantly clear that climate change will have an increasing impact on emergency services. The number of weather-related incidents we attend is on the rise, but it is not a steady rise that supports gradual adaptation. In 2018 London’s firefighters attended 77% more grass fires than the previous year, with 4,290 such incidents across the city as a result of that summer’s heatwave, then dropping by half the following year. The scale and the sudden peaks in activity also represent a challenge for planning and managing our services.
In 2018 more than 200 firefighters spent four days tackling a blaze that spread across Wanstead Flats – the largest grass fire in London’s history. Firefighters dealt with 160 incidents in a 12-hour period in February 2020 due to storm Ciara, doubling the average calls to Control. These major incidents are happening across the country, with wild fires on Saddleworth Moor in Greater Manchester lasting three weeks in 2018.
Scientific reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provide clear evidence that serious action is needed. When compared to the mind-boggling risks of not taking action, it is no longer a choice of do we or don’t we try to mitigate.
Alongside this, air quality is considered the most pressing environmental threat to the health of London. Annually over 9,000 Londoners’ lives end sooner than they should because of air pollution. We are working to reduce the air-quality emissions that come from our fleet of some 450 vehicles and boilers at 103 fire stations.
It is not just the science and statistics that are encouraging change. There is now a wealth of public support for all organisations to do better on a range of issues. The Blue Planet effect created by Sir David Attenborough’s TV series highlighted the problem of plastic pollution, and its broadcast was closely following by announcements of targets and bans on single-use plastics.
Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate protests started in August 2018 outside the Swedish parliament and led to the Fridays for Future movement and the Greta effect. Provided with platforms around the world, her plain speaking and reference to the science raised public awareness and inspired many.
The first Climate Emergency Declaration was made in December 2016, but it was the Greta effect and pressure from Extinction Rebellion (XR) which made people take notice. With XR’s aims for governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency and their high-profile protests, such as the 11-day demonstration across central London in April 2019, local governments in 28 countries have now signed declarations, with net-zero carbon targets as ambitious as 2030.
Over 90% of the UK population lives in areas that have declared an emergency and fire services will be expected to contribute. The Mayor of London set a target of net zero by 2050 under the London Environment Strategy with policy commitments applying to the Brigade. More recently the Mayor’s ambition has leaped forwards to net zero by 2030, in line with the ambitions of many other local authorities.
There are other recent movements of change that also remind us of our other responsibilities. The Black Lives Matter protests have helped to highlight that we are still not inclusive. We know that our workforce is not yet representative of the community we serve, and that there is more to do to make our staff feel included, protected and served by the Brigade.
We now know that modern slavery is in all supply chains. It’s not just poor labour standards in distant countries that we have limited visibility of. It exists in our own communities with 5,144 modern-slavery offences in 2019, and with construction one of the highest risk sectors, it could even be on our premises.
Addressing such significant challenges requires action at all levels of an organisation, from the leadership of decision makers, to behaviour change in staff and the decisions about what equipment and services we buy, and from which suppliers, to address the wider impacts of our supply chains.
The Brigade’s Responsible Procurement policy has been in place since 2006. It aims to achieve greater social value through our purchasing decisions on issues such as fair wages, skills and employment, ethical sourcing, modern slavery, inclusion, carbon, air quality and the circular economy. We have provided training and guidance to support procurement colleagues to manage the complexity and range of issues and opportunities. Alongside this is a growing awareness and appetite from procurement professionals and client departments to address these issues.
It is now standard practice to ask key suppliers how they will be a good employer for inclusion, skills progression, wellbeing, fair pay and conditions; to define how they will support SMEs and local organisations to join their supply chain; to set out their contribution to our environmental aims, if not directly contributing to our targets; to commit to supporting their workforce to deliver skills and to encourage those that face barriers to employment and those from underrepresented groups to join their workforce.
Contract monitoring has demonstrated that we can deliver social value through procurement. In the last year, 157 of our contractor staff across seven contracts received the London Living Wage, a wage that reflects the actual cost of living, calculated at 30% higher than the minimum wage. We exceeded the Government target, with 41% spend being with SMEs who are the majority of UK businesses and tend to be more innovative and keep money circulating more locally. Recognising that thousands of businesses go under from late payments every year, we pay 98% of our suppliers in 10 days, and monitor our key suppliers’ payment performance. The demand for employment and skills is more prevalent now than ever, and over the past five years, our contracts have delivered 188 new job starts and 48 apprenticeships.
Procurement will be crucial to achieving our carbon targets and has been instrumental in achieving our 52% reduction to date. Our leadership in an electric fleet started with securing 75% grant funding to install charging points. However, that project’s success was dependent on supplier investment, with its potential identified through market engagement and secured through the tender. This resulted in the installation of EVCPs at 78 sites, including 73 fire stations in 2015. We now have charge points on over 95% of our estate.
With a low-emission-ready estate, low-emission vehicles can follow. Successfully introducing electric vehicles requires buy-in from technical and operational colleagues and challenge to long-standing operational requirements. Our fleet team undertook vehicle trials with manufacturers to confirm our needs could be met, and established a vehicle range and a maximum CO2 rating of 75g/km. Vehicle boot capacity was challenged, recognising the majority of our officers and most of the user group needed half the allocated space for kit bags. This opened up the market considerably, ultimately leading to the purchase of 52 range-extended electric BMW i3s, making London the largest customer in the UK at that time.
Blue-light vehicles are also a supplier challenge. We had to work with BMW to innovate in order to add vehicle livery to self cleaning glass, and attach ancillary equipment and blue lights to a composite-material roof that would not hold our magnetic light beacons. This resulted in a vehicle conversion for a reduced-height light bar. All these issues were resolved by the supplier for just 52 vehicles.
Our buildings are our biggest carbon contributor at 75% of our emissions. We used the RE:FIT framework, to deliver whole-site energy retrofit and save over 20% carbon per site at 57 stations over a decade. Project design was limited to a 13-year payback envelope, with savings guaranteed by the supplier. Procurement activity now focuses on roll-out of those technologies that have seen rapid payback reductions, namely LED lighting and solar photovoltaics.
To deliver more sustainable outcomes, we need to work with other public buyers, not just suppliers, as we seek to create opportunity through aggregation. When Kent Fire and Rescue Service led on the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment, we supported them to introduce Responsible Procurement elements into the Framework. This includes requirements on apprenticeships and training, Environmental Management System certification and ethical sourcing, supporting fire services to enhance social-value outcomes through their collective purchases.
More recently, we are working with the Metropolitan Police Service’s National Uniform Managed Service Framework contractor to incorporate circular economy and ethical sourcing outcomes into our workwear supply. Clothing is considered the second most polluting industry in the world after oil, and accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. It also has significant circular economy opportunities, from textile recycling, to reuse of stock errors, and the use of recycled content fibres. The latter becomes more viable with increased volumes and standardisation of fabric types, and this can be achieved through the collaborative efforts of the framework.
It is now widely accepted that modern slavery is present in all supply chains and that we must continually improve our understanding of the risks, and identify mechanisms to prevent it, the first step being transparency. The Brigade published its first Modern Slavery Statement in May 2020, mere months before the Government’s announcement that the public sector will be required to publish Modern Slavery Statements.
Whilst there is much that we can do through newly procured goods and services, we also have many long-term contracts in place before some initiatives started and we must also engage with our existing supply chain to make improvements. Our recently published Togetherness Strategy aims to do just that, setting the action to undertake a strategic review of contracts to find opportunity to improve inclusion.
Through the LASER Energy framework we secured 100% certified renewable electricity at a lower price, and additional social-value requirements. It’s a first step to procuring lower-carbon electricity, but it is a risky long-term strategy to leave it at that, as the demand for renewable electricity through climate-change commitments outstrips supply, whilst renewable electricity has become cheaper than fossil fuels. Certified renewables, though, do little to reduce overall carbon in the UK. Looking to the future we need to establish Power Purchase Agreements for new renewable energy generation schemes that feed into our utility supply contracts.
We have now started working on that, and it will be some time before the first kilowatts of new clean energy are delivered. For fire services the added challenge is our insignificant supply requirements. London’s demand is insufficient to warrant interest from developers. This is why we are collaborating with the likes of Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police Service to make this innovative procurement route possible. On the bright side this will be a challenge facing many public-sector organisations, creating a market for procurement framework providers to step in.
For more information, go to www.london-fire.gov.uk