Fire chiefs critical of Audit Commission report

A fire engine

A fire engine

A report which has downgraded the performance of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has been criticised.

The Organisational Assessment report has scored the Service two, indicating that overall performance is adequate.

However, previous reports had suggested the Service, which covers Lichfield and Burntwood, was performing well.

Now fire chiefs have claimed that the report, published by the Audit Commission, has failed to capture the real progress that has been made.

Head of Organisational Performance and Planning, Dean Stevens said:

“This report forms part of a Comprehensive Area Assessment which is a new approach to assessing local authorities and fire and rescue services.  This process should have been a tool to help us improve and we welcomed this opportunity; however, in this respect we do not feel this new method has achieved its aims.

“We’re disappointed with the approach that the Audit Commission has taken, which has resulted in a failure to recognise the real progress being made by Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. We are leading the way of the UK Fire and Rescue Service in many areas and although we are aware of areas we need to develop we know that overall we are exceeding the requirements expected of us.  This has not been evidenced in the Audit Commission’s scoring and it certainly does not reflect the commitment, dedication and professionalism of our hardworking staff and Authority Members.

“The view of the Audit Commission is also inconsistent with a very recent IDeA (Improvement and Development Agency for local government) Peer Review Assessment which said ‘Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is progressive, ambitious and has achieved a great deal in terms of modernisation…the fire and rescue service demonstrates commitment to community well being and is involved in a wide range of prevention initiatives that are delivering performance improvements across a range of indicators and measures.”

And Mr Stevens claimed areas had been “cherry picked” for the report. He added:

“It seems the Audit Commission have ‘cherry picked’ the areas they want to feed into their overall report, to support a pre-conceived view of our score, which is clearly not acceptable.  It is important to know that we have continued to improve our performance over a number of years, for example we have reduced accidental dwelling fire casualties to 38, compared to 221 in 1998/99, an 83% improvement; with this being achieved while being one of the lowest costing authorities per head of population.

“We have voiced our concerns to the Audit Commission, as have other fire and rescue services, and we hope future assessments are more balanced and reflect our contributions to improving the lives and well being of the communities we serve.

“We certainly won’t be letting this report knock us back – if anything it just gives us more of an incentive to prove what a high performing Service we are, striving to make Staffordshire the safest place to be.”

The overall score of two comprised of the results of two themes – managing performance, for which the Service scored a three (performing well), and use of resources, for which the Service scored a two (performing adequately). From these two results the Audit Commission awarded an overall score of two.

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