Report of the Assistant Chief Fire Officer
The Panel received the report of the Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) providing Members with an update on progress made by officers against the various recommendations contained within the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report and specifically the ESFRS Grenfell Tower action plan. The report also updated Members on proposed new legislation emerging from the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower Fire namely The Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill.
Members thanked the ACFO for an important and detailed report. They were informed that at the last meeting of the LGAAA Fire Commission it had been deemed that Fire & Rescue Services should not be held responsible for issues with construction. Responsibility needed to be taken at a Local Authority level, particularly Planning and Building Control inspections. Collaboration points were in turn important, including the importance of control rooms. There was a general opinion that there was a need for integrated working, not only relating to cladding.
The ACFO took the Panel through the key points of the report, this was a progress update in response to Phase 1 of the inquiry, it was very clear that the Service still has its attention on matters resulting from Grenfell Tower and crucial safety developments were very much underway.
The Fire Survival guidance policy has assisted Fire Control staff to better speak with victims and pass this information on to the fire site, it has built on and strengthened the relationship between scene commanders and fire control officers.
The ACFO then explained that the a fundamental part of Project 21 had been the “intra” and “inter” operability, meaning the way that the Service worked with not only West Sussex and Surrey Fire Services but also sharing with other agencies. There had been positive funding from central Government to assist with the improvement planning.
The ACFO reminded the Panel that this report was focussed on operational matters, there was a very clear difference between this and the matters that will be covered in phase 2 of the inquiry which would be focussing on development and the roles of Local Authorities. But it was important to note at this stage that ESFRS had a good relationship with its local and housing authorities.
The ACFO reassured Members that there was not much improvement needed with regards to Fire Safety in light of the inquiry, the proposed Bill builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again. The major outstanding issues were relating to the issue of development, including Building Control, fire consultation and information sharing. The Building Safety Regulator proposed within the Health and Safety Executive would be responsible for implementing and enforcing a more stringent regulatory regime for higher risk buildings and oversight of safety and performance across all buildings.
The ACFO concluded by informing Members that he was proud and confident in the teams and how excellently they performed in making operational decisions in a dynamic way.
Members expressed some concerns about whether the budget restraints that the Service was facing would hamper its ability to meet regulations, there was some concern around the potential loosening of planning laws, particularly those relating to the conversion of office premises into residential. The ACFO explained that the sector had received protection on surge funding for officers involved in inspecting high-rise residential. The Audit report also showed progress on risk based inspection. It was inevitable that there would be some budget pressures, but the sector would continue lobbying government for funding streams to continue. The Panel agreed that this lobbying was important and that local MPs needed to be reminded of what the Service needed in terms of funding. The ADR/T added that the NFCC, LGA and Home Office were also lobbying the Treasury directly. The CFO confirmed that a letter would be sent in the summer to the local MPs from the Charman and Vice-Chair informing them of the needs and challenges to the Service and inviting them to meet in the autumn to discuss in person.