I would like to start my editorial by paying tribute to His Royal Highness, Prince Philip who passed away peacefully last month. Prince Philip leaves a legacy in the thousands of young people who completed his award scheme, something many of our readers will have either achieved or supported others in achieving.
If all goes to plan, this month will see the UK returning to some of the freedoms we have been required to give up for significant periods over the past 14 months. With the success of the UK mass-vaccination programme seeing deaths as a result of Covid-19 reduce rapidly, we can dare to be optimistic about a return to what is being dubbed as the ‘new normal’. So what does that mean for those of us involved in fire engineering? Not only to those working in operational response or dealing with customers out in the field but also to those in our essential support roles whatever they might be. What lessons have been learned from our enforced need to stay at home? Are we better informed about the benefits of remote working and the advantages of online meetings, and have we had time to reflect on what impact this has had on individuals, our profession and our organisations?
In the early days of what was the biggest reduction of social mobility in our lifetime there was great optimism over the positive environmental benefits to nations so reliant on carbon-fuelled transport systems. As I write this the clear blue skies remain devoid of the white streaks left from passing passenger jets crossing over to link the world’s commuters and travellers. In the case of business travel the gap between face-to-face meetings has been filled by the exponential growth of online meetings, but to quote Newton’s third law ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’; in this case the impact on the travel industry and carriers has been devastating.
In the case of homeworking, for many individuals this has provided new freedoms. It has perhaps helped to ensure staff are valued on outcomes as opposed to time at their desk or in the office, and undoubtedly the absence of long commutes has potentially provided an increase in leisure or downtime. However, for many people, homeworking is an imposition that has been difficult to adjust to or operate in for extended periods. Those who don’t have the luxury of a home office have had to adapt their living space to cope alongside their family activities. Parents have had to juggle home-schooling and childcare with a full-time work role and for some the absence of the line between home and work has been quite distressing. A former colleague summed this up when she said: ‘I started by working from home but now I live at work.’
In both of these examples there has to be a middle ground. My view is that face-to-face interaction in a work environment is essential. Even thinking back to my earliest days of studying human psychology as a new manager, it was clear that individual needs cannot be fulfilled in isolation and teamwork is a critical success factor for most organisations and businesses. I hope that the reality of the real workplace over the virtual workspace is accepting of the time needed between meetings for people to move around, to communicate and that social interaction is not devalued to that of an inconvenience or inefficiency.
There will be organisations that saw the early benefits of the working-from-home explosion as an opportunity to change their operating model. Driven by the need to reduce future business costs and seeing the potential for the capital receipts from the sale of real estate or reduced rental costs, perhaps they have even commenced their restructures based on the enforced business model. If so, I can only hope they have engaged with their staff to ensure that assumptions made are based on a model that remains sustainable beyond workstyle changes made a requirement by government restrictions.
In the case of transport systems, the impact of carbon emissions cannot have been clearer. The UK’s carbon footprint has demonstrated a 17% reduction as people have operated in a more eco-conscious manner. The UK governments have announced radical new climate commitments with a target to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. The use of renewable energy sources is increasing along with the advances in the associated technology. Vehicle manufacturers are accelerating the change to electric and fuel-cell power systems while construction is integrating eco-friendly systems into build projects.
With international travel anticipated to open up over the coming months we must all hope that the travel industry, so critical to many economies, employment and lifestyles can rebuild with international carriers having a clear eye towards developing air travel that reduces the use of fossil fuels
One hopes the momentum of change continues to build at a pace and perhaps spurred on by the unexpected experiences of the past year.
In March, Lord Greenhalgh made a statement to Parliament regarding the Home Office findings from the first part of a two-part review into the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC). This review is quoted as having ‘kick-started’ the government’s review of fire and rescue governance indicating ‘strong support for a directly elected individual taking on fire functions to help simplify and strengthen the governance of fire and rescue services across England’.
A consultative White Paper on fire reform will be published later this year and will set out the government’s reform agenda and explore the PCC review proposals on fire governance. This will include:
- Consultation mandating the transfer of fire and rescue functions to the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner model across England where boundaries are coterminous, unless there is an option to transfer fire governance directly to an elected Mayor.
- Consulting on how to address coterminosity challenges (including in the South West).
- Legislating to create operational independence for Chief Fire Officers and to clearly separate and delineate strategic and operational planning for fire and rescue.
The Home Office have stated that the White Paper will set the direction for English Fire and Rescue Services in the three areas of professionalism, people and governance and will seek to deliver a set of reforms to ensure Fire and Rescue Services operate effectively and efficiently, put the public first and meet the needs of the communities they serve whilst adapting to societal changes.
The Home Office has appointed Roy Wilsher, the former Chairman of the National Fire Chiefs Council, as an independent expert advisor on fire and rescue service reform. In a press release the Home Office said Mr Wilsher ‘will offer valuable operational insight and work with stakeholders on the upcoming White Paper on fire reform. He will also help the Home Office to respond to findings from an imminent consultation on the White Paper’.
With Mr Wilsher’s stated independence as an advisor, coming from a long and distinguished fire and rescue service career along with his term as Chief Executive for the Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner and having been the inaugural Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, we hope the views, ideas and needs of the Fire and Rescue Service will be appropriately represented and considered in this review.
I cannot conclude without once again mentioning the Grenfell Tower inquiry, which re-commenced after a recess with evidence again being heard from residents of the flats in the context of the pre-fire building-related issues. The inquiry continues to attract some ‘sound-bite’ media attention, but I would continue to urge readers to maintain a close eye on the information being presented. The final report and recommendations will remain some way off but the value learning from the proceedings for fire professionals should not be under-estimated. I would highly recommend the BBC’s Grenfell Inquiry Podcast, which has reported on every day that the inquiry has sat.
Meanwhile, in a related event, the government’s Fire Safety Bill was defeated for the third time in the House of Lords. A majority of 86 voted to reinsert provisions that will protect residents from the burden of cost in delivering fire-safety improvements.
Here is hoping we have some warm sunny days to enjoy with family and friends and that our steps towards the new normal are positive.
Very best wishes.
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