To be published as HC 105-i

House of COMMONS



Communities and Local Government Committee

Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Brandon Lewis MP and Peter Holland CBE

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 – 78



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee

on Wednesday 15 May 2013

Members present:

Mr Clive Betts (Chair)

Simon Danczuk

Mrs Mary Glindon

James Morris

John Pugh


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Brandon Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, and Mr Peter Holland CBE, Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to this oneoff session on the fire and rescue service and postappointment hearing-I think that is a first-of the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser. Minister, again you are most welcome on your return visit to us, one of several return visits, I think. Perhaps, Mr Holland, just for the sake of our records, you could introduce yourself and say what your role is.

Peter Holland: I am Peter Holland. I am the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser working in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Q2 Chair: Thank you very much indeed for that, and you are both very welcome. Minister, we had an exchange of letters some time ago about whether the post in question should be one that would be subject to a preappointment hearing and, without confirming our inprinciple agreement to that position, we agreed to do it this time on the basis of meeting yourself with Peter Holland after his appointment. Can you just explain why you think this post is not subject to the preappointment hearing? If Mr Holland is to take on board the role of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire Services, if he is, does that not justify a preappointment hearing on the ground that it is really a regulatory role, in that sense?

Brandon Lewis: I am happy to answer that, Chairman. Thank you for inviting us back. It is always a pleasure to come back and share your company for the afternoon.

Chair: Reserve that comment for the end.

Brandon Lewis: Yes, I will comment on that further in 60odd minutes’ time. Firstly, I just want to say I appreciate your cooperation when we had that exchange of letters. I know you were very helpful in allowing us to move forward with the appointment and the process. Basically, the role of the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser was mistakenly put on a list for preappointment scrutiny by officials, a few years ago, at DCLG. The role is a civil service post, and that is why we do not think it is part of the preappointment process, but we are where we are. We appreciate your, on this occasion, allowing us to go down this route. As a result of the recruitment process, we have a superb person in the role. I am sure I will be happy to answer your questions on that, but I think we have a really good appointment and, as we said, an opportunity for you to quiz him today.

Q3 Chair: Mr Holland, welcome and could you just explain to us briefly the reasons why you decided this was a job for you, you wanted to have it and the process you went through to be appointed?

Peter Holland: I have served for 40 years in the fire and rescue service, having served in various parts of the country in different sizes of fire and rescue services. I have been a Chief Fire Officer for 17 years, four of those in Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and, latterly, 13 years as Chief Fire Officer of Lancashire. I was the President of the Chief Fire Officers Association. I have been International President of the Institution of Fire Engineers. You could say fire and rescue is in my blood from that perspective, having spent so long in it.

I really do feel I can genuinely give something back for what the fire and rescue service has given me, in terms of helping and supporting, from a ministerial and officials’ perspective, and also working with former colleagues in the fire and rescue service to help them continue to provide a good service and perhaps make it even better, even though of course that is particularly difficult in times of austerity. I do think I can bring something to the table, in having run what was a very efficient and effective fire and rescue service, which continued to provide very good emergency response, and also move the agenda forward from the point of view of the prevention and protection activities, which have really transformed the fire and rescue service in the last 10 years, with the number of interactions that the fire and rescue service has with the public. The number of home fire safety checks that fire and rescue services do now compared to the emergency responses, in many cases, is double, and can make a real and significant difference to people’s lives. I want to continue to be part of that and I think I have something to offer.

Q4 Chair: How were you selected, then? Briefly, what was the process?

Peter Holland: The job was advertised openly. I think I picked it up through the Chief Fire Officers Association. I understand there were several people who applied and three people were shortlisted. I filled in a full application and a statement of suitability, and went through a selection process that involved the Director General, the Director, the Technical Adviser, my predecessor Sir Ken Knight and somebody from the HR department in Communities and Local Government.

Q5 Chair: Minister, what was your role in that process?

Brandon Lewis: Just to clarify, the post was advertised for an open process on 5 November and was open through to 3 December. The selection process itself was run internally. We advertised in the specialty fire press, as well as through the Chief Fire Officers Association. As Peter said, he went through the interview procedure that included David Prout as the former Director General for Localism, as well as Neil O’Connor, who is our Director of Fire, Resilience and Emergencies. The former Chief Fire Officer, Sir Ken Knight, was a technical adviser, along with Dawn Brodrick, who was involved as well. I was then informed as the Fire Minister of the shortlist and the interview panel’s decision on a preferred candidate. The panel made the decision and then I signed off on Peter, after they had made that decision.

Just going back to one of your opening comments around the inspectorate, following the selection, a statutory instrument has been drafted and will be laid before the Privy Council. The privy meeting is scheduled for today, to enable Peter to be officially appointed as Her Majesty’s Inspector.

Q6 Mrs Glindon: Mr Holland, the job of Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser has been reduced to a threedaysaweek post. How will you be able to carry out what was previously a fulltime job as a parttime post?

Peter Holland: The job changed to three days a week about three years ago. It was really the change and reduction in staff at the Department for Communities and Local Government, in recognition that a lot of the work that was being done within the Department was being done within fire and rescue services and within fire and rescue authorities. From that point of view, the workload was moving away at that time. I knew it was a threedayaweek job. If I did not think I could do it in three days a week, I would not have applied, but I do have fantastic support from within the Fire, Resilience and Emergencies division of the Department. I have limited direct support, but I have access to a great deal of support, and that has proved to be incredibly helpful over the time I have been in post. It was 28 January when I started.

Q7 Mrs Glindon: Minister, in reducing the post to three days a week, how did you assess risk against cost savings?

Brandon Lewis: The Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser is not directly responsible for the risk assessments and the work that is done. In terms of the risk for fire and rescue itself, that is done through the local FRAs, so the role is more about the advice given to the Department and to me directly, and the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser has that direct access to the Minister as well. As Peter has outlined, it has been part time for some time now. It was 2010, shortly after we decided to decentralise power. It is to do with the fact that we have decentralised power and we have decentralised a lot of the accountability to the FRAs. Programmes such as FiReControl were stopped, and we ended the forced regionalisation of the fire service. The role changed; the decision was made to move it to part time. It worked under Peter’s predecessor, Sir Ken Knight, who is always there, literally sometimes, sitting over our shoulders. He is this afternoon. There was a view when Sir Ken retired that the new role was working and, therefore, we continue it as it was. Peter is thus far fulfilling that role as is, and it is working very well.

Q8 Mrs Glindon: Clearly you are happy with that. Thank you, Minister. Mr Holland, earlier in the year when you wrote to the Chief Fire Officers Association asking for secondees to the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser’s Unit, you said the amount available was £60,000. The Chief Fire Officers Association has commented that this "was unlikely to fully cover the costs of a suitably experienced senior officer". How much has the budget for the Unit been reduced since 2010?

Peter Holland: It would have depended who the secondees were at the time, because it depended on what level they were at in the service as to how much they were costing. To answer the question quite specifically, circa £15,000 to £20,000 per person. The reason for that is that coming to work in the Department is a really important professional development opportunity for somebody who aspires to greater things within the fire and rescue service: operating within the Fire Policy Unit, working closely with myself and getting oneto-one mentoring and support. We have filled two posts based on the reduced amount, having spoken to Chief Fire Officers and explained really just what I have explained to you now-that people do appreciate that personal development opportunity.

Q9 Mrs Glindon: Do you think that the posts have been fully realised in light of the fact of the budget cuts that are facing fire and rescue services? That has not impeded who could have come forward in any way.

Peter Holland: I sincerely hope not. Probably what has impeded people applying is that the best people are people you are inclined to try to keep in house. The more enlightened Chief Fire Officers recognise that you need to develop your potential. It is just a great opportunity for people to come and work at the centre and have a much better understanding of the way that the service interacts with central Government.

Q10 Simon Danczuk: Peter, I am trying to understand the independence and authority that exists within the role that you now have. Could you tell the Committee if your job is about giving technical advice to Government or do you have a wider job, in terms of giving advice on policy as well?

Peter Holland: The answer to that is yes, but I am sure you would like me to say a little bit more than just yes. It is predominantly around operational matters and assisting in how fire and rescue services are run. If there are any issues within the fire policy section of FRED that officials want advice on or the Minister wants advice on-perhaps the Minister has been on a visit to a service and has seen something, and wants to know whether that is good practice, bad practice or whatever-I am very happy to give and have given advice accordingly.

Brandon Lewis: Can I just add to that? I do not think you can underestimate, and I am sure, Chairman, you appreciate this, the importance and advantage as a Minister with a sector like fire and rescue to have somebody you can access. Either it is because you have seen what might be good practice somewhere or you are looking at various options. To be able to talk to somebody who has the background of the sector, understands the sector and has seen it insideout-good, bad, indifferent, fantastic, wonderful, etc.-but is not talking to you from the point of view that any good chief would be, quite rightly, from the fact that they are a chief for their service and would always quite rightly want to have a view that might be advantageous for their service; I totally understand that is quite right. To have somebody who has that experience, knowledge and background of the sector but without that, and stands independent of that is invaluable. As a Minister that is one of the most important parts of the role: having somebody you can talk to and get that feedback from.

Q11 Simon Danczuk: Peter, would you advise on, for example, the structure of the fire service in England? Would you give advice to the Minister on the structure of the fire service?

Peter Holland: Absolutely I would, yes.

Q12 Simon Danczuk: What would you do if the Government disregarded your advice?

Peter Holland: That has not happened yet. In all sincerity, if I believe passionately in something and thought a mistake was being made, I would make it really clear that I thought a mistake was being made.

Q13 Simon Danczuk: You would make it really clear to the Minister or to the public?

Peter Holland: My responsibility is to the Minister.

Q14 Simon Danczuk: Do you have access to the Prime Minister?

Peter Holland: I have not tried yet, no. No, I generally do not directly have it.

Q15 Simon Danczuk: Minister, why did the Department decide to make the Adviser report to the Director of Fire, Resilience and Emergencies rather than directly to the Minister?

Brandon Lewis: Peter’s role does have direct and open access to me as the Minister anyway. He does have that direct and open access.

Simon Danczuk: He does not report directly to you. He reports within the Department itself.

Brandon Lewis: No, because he is part of the civil service, but he does have direct and open access to myself.

Q16 Simon Danczuk: Why does he not report directly to you?

Brandon Lewis: Because he is part of the civil service and he reports to the civil service, through the civil service system. As I said, Peter does have, as Sir Ken did, direct and open access to me as the Fire Minister.

Peter Holland: That really has not changed. Whoever has been what was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and then subsequently Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser has always reported through a civil service official, but also having that direct contact with the Minister.

Q17 Simon Danczuk: Peter, there has been recent press coverage about privatisation of the fire service. What is your view on privatisation?

Peter Holland: Certainly the Secretary of State has made it very clear what the position is: it is not going to happen. The fire and rescue services are predominantly pretty well run organisations, and I do not think there is a public appetite for privatisation of the fire service anyway.

Q18 Simon Danczuk: You do not think there should be privatisation of the fire service.

Peter Holland: No, I do not.

Simon Danczuk: You are opposed to that.

Peter Holland: I am, yes.

Brandon Lewis: Which is very convenient, because we are not privatising and have made it very clear that, despite some of the propaganda out there, we are not and have not looked at privatising the fire service.

Q19 Chair: Surely there is an opportunity there for fire services to go out and tender from the private sector certain things that are currently done in house.

Brandon Lewis: Quite right, Chair. Under the 2004 Act that the previous Administration brought in, there is quite a wide range of things that the fire service can go out to the private sector to supply, but what it cannot go out to the private sector for is that core fire service-the entry and things like that. Obviously we do have the issue at the moment where the Labour fire authority in Cleveland is quite keen to look at mutualisation, but we have been very clear we would not allow that to happen if it, in any way, opened the door, in any format, to privatisation, which is why at the moment they are not progressing with it.

Q20 Chair: In terms of independent advice, I understand that you are the adviser to the Minister, but you are also, I understand, the Chief Inspector as well.

Peter Holland: No, I am not Chief Inspector. I am an inspector under Section 28 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act.

Q21 Chair: Is there a Chief Inspector?

Peter Holland: No, there is not.

Brandon Lewis: No.

Q22 Chair: What has happened to the "Chief" bit?

Brandon Lewis: There has not been-the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser does hold inspection powers, on behalf of the Secretary of State, which is under Section 28, and overseas national coordination and the advisory framework arrangements. There is no fire inspectorate and there has not been, but they do hold responsibility for the running of the Crown premises inspection group, which enforces the fire safety order in Crownowned premises.

Q23 Chair: Something like in the police service, where there is an independent inspector who can say to the public "I am concerned about these things."

Brandon Lewis: We do not have that in the fire service.

Q24 Chair: Mr Holland, in terms of your responsibilities, if you think that something is going disastrously wrong, if some policy is being pursued in a way that is going to put at risk public safety, your only recourse is to advise the Minister and not to advise Parliament or the public.

Peter Holland: My understanding is my recourse would be to advise the Minister, yes.

Brandon Lewis: If we were in a situation where that kind of intervention was needed that sits with the Secretary of State.

Q25 Chair: If you feel that strongly that the Secretary of State is not listening to you, your only recourse is to walk out of the door, not to say anything else?

Peter Holland: I probably would do, if my advice was not listened to. The Minister doublegulped at that point, but yes.

Q26 Mrs Glindon: Who has responsibility for publishing guidance on matters relating to the fire service: the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser or the Department for Communities and Local Government?

Peter Holland: For operational advice that used to be delivered through the Department, and there are still one or two bits of guidance that are being dealt with currently. Within the next few months, they will be issued by the Department, working in conjunction with Surrey Fire and Rescue Service. Once that is done, all the operational guidance will be issued through an operational guidance strategy group, which is chaired by the Chief Fire Officer of Hertfordshire. I do sit on that group.

Brandon Lewis: That would effectively become sectorled. The Chief Fire Officers Association and the LGA are involved, but it is led by the current Chief of Hertfordshire.

Mrs Glindon: So it is more the service than the Department.

Brandon Lewis: Exactly right.

Q27 Mrs Glindon: Mr Holland, when your predecessor was appointed in 2007, the Audit Commission had a significant responsibility for the inspection and assessment of the fire and rescue service. Who carries out this job now?

Peter Holland: There is no inspectorate for the fire and rescue service. That responsibility still lies with the Audit Commission, what is remaining there. However, if there is intervention needed by the Secretary of State requiring me to go in, I would be the person who would be sent in. However, before that there is an arrangement, which works very successfully, where the Chief Fire Officers Association and the Local Government Association have set up a peerreview process to help guide, mentor and support a service that was having some difficulties. It would only be if that had failed that I am confident the Secretary of State would want me to go in and have a look to see what the situation was and how it could be resolved.

Q28 Mrs Glindon: Is it comparable to the former role that was held by the Audit Commission, or as satisfactory?

Peter Holland: It is a bit more involved really. If the Audit Commission found an issue in the fire and rescue service, they would report that to the local fire authority. This is about, on top of that, helping that fire and rescue authority to develop and improve back to a satisfactory position. It is only if that then failed that the powers that I have, delegated from the Secretary of State, would be brought in.

Q29 Mrs Glindon: Can I ask, and I ask this of both of you, to what extent EU regulations impinge on the fire and rescue service and who carries responsibilities for attending UK and EU Committees?

Brandon Lewis: The Adviser does not have any specific role in terms of European Union fire regulations, but he would be involved in providing advice to the Fire Minister-myself at the moment obviously-as he would in any other fire and rescue policy matter.

Q30 James Morris: Clearly the scope of the fire service’s role has changed, as you acknowledged earlier, quite radically over the last five to 10 years, with a focus on prevention. How do you see that mix of stuff that the fire service does around prevention fitting into your role as the Adviser? How does it fit in? How does it define your role?

Peter Holland: I would be asked to advise around how a service was working or not working, in terms of taking full advantage of the opportunities to prevent fires, rather than just focusing on emergency response. It is about getting that balance right and it is about the fire and rescue authorities having their risk management plans, which are prevention, protection and emergency response related, making sure that it does not lean too far to emergency response to the detriment of prevention.

Q31 James Morris: Do you think it is core? Is prevention now core to your role?

Peter Holland: If you were to talk to any Chief Fire Officer in this country, they would absolutely tell you that prevention was at the core, given that 50% of the people who die in fires are dead before the fire and rescue service gets a call. That would vary from service to service, but that statistic is quite stark really.

Q32 James Morris: It has big implications, does it not, for resourcing, because of the changing shape of the fire services? What resources are required for a modern fire service? Do you think the Government is taking it sufficiently into account when they are making decisions about resourcing for the fire service, the broader role that the fire service is taking on? I was looking at Mr Holland.

Brandon Lewis: I cannot resist the urge to come in on preventative work because, I have to say, personally I feel very strongly about this. One of the things that has struck me over the last six months or so that I have been in the post, travelling around the country visiting services, as well as meeting the Chiefs, is you are absolutely right, Mr Morris. The change in the service is quite stark. I have used the phrase at a number of conferences now that the frontline service is becoming more and more prevention. When you look at the figures and we realise that, over the last 10 years or so, fire callouts have dropped by 50%, there is a reason for that. A large part of that reason is about education and people understanding. Technology has moved on as well. Prevention is a huge part of that and prevention, as we all know from life generally, is much more costeffective than the cure afterwards. If we can prevent deaths and injuries, we will all be much better for it, but it is certainly becoming a very key role.

It is also quite right that how that is done, the format in which it is done and how it is delivered are a matter for that local fire service, the fire authority under the Chief’s advice. The reason for that is the same reason why we have localised things generally: it is in that area that that Chief and that fire authority will know what works best in their communities. What might work perfectly well in one part of a community will not work perfectly well in another. They are the best ones to assess exactly how to deliver that kind of prevention and education. I will let Peter come in.

Peter Holland: From a resourcing point of view, the vast majority of preventative activity is undertaken by the people riding on fire engines, going out when they do not have an emergency call and, as I mentioned earlier on, doing home fire safety checks. That is the bulk of the work, but we absolutely know that works. Getting a working smoke alarm in is of course not preventing the fire; that is protecting people if there is a fire. The important part is that engagement with the householders to try to prevent that.

Q33 James Morris: If you talk to some fire officers around the country, as I am sure the Minister has done and I have done in my patch, one of the criticisms that I hear is that the Government is not taking sufficiently into account this new remit. A lot of fire officers are saying, "We are going to have to cut some of that, as a result of some of the cost reductions that have been placed by the Government." I am not saying I agree with that, but that is a criticism I hear. Would you share that view?

Peter Holland: It is disappointing to hear that, but I understand, because of the pressures that fire authorities are under, why they would want to look at that. It is entirely appropriate to ensure that any money that is spent on preventative activity is being spent wisely.

Brandon Lewis: There is an important point of view in terms of policy. I know your Chief well and I know your fire authority well, having visited them and had visits from them on a number of occasions. If a Chief and a fire authority are looking at their finances and looking at how they can spend them in the best possible way, for the benefit of the residents whose money it is, they should be looking at what the most costeffective thing to do is. Is it to prevent a callout in the first place and put money into prevention, or is it in not doing that and letting the cost of a callout go up? What I think they should be doing is looking very carefully and making sure that they are putting the right resources into prevention to prevent the callouts in the first place.

Also, it is about managing risk and the fire authorities have got that role of looking at what their risk level is and making decisions based on that in terms of how they allocate resources. Certainly when you see that callouts are falling in the dramatic way they have done, because of prevention, there is a pretty clear message about how they should be allocating resources efficiently and effectively. Particularly in your authority, they have had quite a big advantage this year because, as well as having substantial investment in terms of capital funds, they have also had the benefit of being de minimis. They are one of the authorities that manage to put their council tax up by almost 10%, if they wanted to. I would struggle to see that they would have a good argument to make around their funding cuts.

Q34 James Morris: Finally, Mr Holland, do you think that there is currently sufficient and adequate compliance with current fire safety regulatory guidance and legislation or could more be done?

Peter Holland: This is a particularly good question. It is a risk management decision that is taken by fire and rescue authorities, as to how much resource they want to put into the enforcement regime, and it varies enormously from one service to another. If you have an area where you have a lot of poorer quality housing in multiple occupation, boarding houses, hotels that are run down and are high risk that authority would be putting more resource into it, rather than an area where you have bluechip industry and people are complying with legislation, as you would expect in that sort of environment. There are certainly pockets that are much higher risk and do need dealing with differently and managing differently.

Q35 Mrs Glindon: Mr Holland, when there is a tragedy such as the fire in Shirley Towers in Southampton last year, when sadly, two firefighters died, does the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser have a role in drawing out lessons and ensuring changes are made across the country?

Peter Holland: In the case of the tragic incident in Southampton, and indeed the incident in London at Lakanal House where six people tragically died, the Coroner did write to the Department, in what is known as a rule 43 letter, which is around trying to prevent a similar tragedy occurring. I personally was involved in both of those cases and had a lot to do with advising on both of them. I am satisfied that the actions that have been taken and are about to be taken will prevent similar tragedies occurring. That goes back to your earlier question about changing some of the operational guidance that fire and rescue services work to, and that was given in the response back to the Coroner, in relation to both those cases.

Q36 Mrs Glindon: Are they the main lessons learned?

Peter Holland: Prior to the Coroner’s inquest, fire and rescue services of course debrief such incidents, learn the lessons from them and already make changes. They do not wait for the Coroner’s inquest, because they can take some time to be held after the tragedy has occurred. It is important those lessons are learned, not just in that individual fire and rescue service but all around the country. It is important those lessons are shared and, where appropriate, I will do my level best to assist that, but that is being done very effectively by the Chief Fire Officers Association, as we mentioned earlier on.

Q37 Mrs Glindon: Could I ask you, Mr Holland, specifically, what is your assessment of the contribution that sprinklers can make to fire safety?

Peter Holland: As someone who established the National Fire Sprinkler Network in 1997, I suspected a question like that might come in my direction. I have always said this-right back in 1997 I said this-so I am not changing the message at all. It is entirely appropriate when trying to produce a plan for a building, in terms of how it deals with fire and how the people react to fire, that a proper fireengineered solution is taken into account. The inbuilt what is known as "passive fire protection", the fire resistance of walls, ceilings and doors, should all work, be to a standard and needs to be there. Things like fire alarms need to be in place as well. Sprinklers are really there if all else fails. If the fire risk assessments are done properly in buildings, you ought to be able to prevent fires. If they do occur, they should only be small ones. Sprinklers are there as a fallback, but in higherrisk buildings where there is a prevalence of fires, there is bad housekeeping and you have people who are higher risk, sprinklers are entirely appropriate in those sorts of circumstances.

Q38 Mrs Glindon: Would you say that improvements that can be achieved in instances with the installation of sprinklers, which you have specified, would justify the cost of their installation?

Peter Holland: Certainly where you have people who are vulnerable. I should have mentioned before, and forgive me, but we all know we have an ageing population and people living on their own. They might be being put to bed at night and got up in the morning. What is going to happen in those circumstances if a fire breaks out? Okay, yes, they can have a phone at the side of the bed but in those sorts of situations, it would be entirely appropriate to consider sprinkler protection for those people.

Q39 Mrs Glindon: Do you think that they should be installed specifically in highrise dwellings?

Peter Holland: My advice would be in highrise buildings where you have highrisk people in those buildings, but the building regulations now cover newbuild highrise. The question is, from a value for money point of view and protecting life, that that should be done on a riskassessed basis. Following what I have just said, if you have elderly people living in a high rise, in the Sheffield area a building called Callow Mount had sprinklers retrofitted at very low cost-£55,000 for an 11storey building with over 40 flats in there. It proved that it can be done.

Chair: We have a picture of you there at the opening to prove your support for it as well.

Q40 Mrs Glindon: Minister, will the Government publish proposals to encourage the installation of automatic firesuppression systems?

Brandon Lewis: No. First of all, in new build, as Peter has outlined, regulations are now in place. Some of the buildings that we have seen tragedies in before, if they were built today, would have sprinklers in anyway. In terms of doing it, I know the Welsh Government has made an announcement-it is going to be interesting to see what happens to that as it develops. We will await the consultation in due course for new properties. In terms of general properties, I had a meeting recently with some people from the Business Sprinkler Alliance as well. The industry itself has an opportunity to make a case. I am not convinced at the moment it is for the Government to make a case for private industry around what they should be doing. There is clearly a case for the industry to make on that, but I do not think it is for Government at the moment to be regulating or going too much further, given the indication of regulation, when we are not looking at changing the building regulations in that way.

Q41 Mrs Glindon: Mr Holland, this is the final question on sprinklers: would you support the call of the Glass and Glazing Federation for the application of fire safety engineering to be more transparent in individual projects and open to peer review and constructive input from those in the fire safety sector, who are advancing fire safety practice and who are able to contribute through their specialist knowledge?

Peter Holland: Yes. In fact, you are in a building that is fire engineered and has lots of glazing in it, if you look at your atrium. Fire engineering is a relatively new science in its own right. It is quite complex how modern buildings behave, with different construction materials. There are some very smart people who work in that field, who model how the building is going to behave, use computer modelling and use information from fires that have occurred, before they decide and advise on what should or should not go into a building, for example ventilation systems, sprinkler systems and how they interact when there is a fire. What happens where you have a tall atrium in a building? You have a tall atrium in a building; it is a hot day. It is not today of course but, on a hot day when you have the sun shining, it gets quite warm at the top of that atrium. It gets warm down below but it is very hot at the top. When the smoke from that fire starts to rise, it does not go to the top of the building like you would expect it to do, because it is held down by buoyancy. How is that going to impact on people evacuating? That is going to keep the smoke much lower and move the smoke around. Fire engineers need to understand that and how that it is going to impact on people trying to escape from the fire. It is incredibly important.

Q42 Chair: In terms of the risk assessment of buildings, shall we say it should be done as far as sprinklers are concerned? Not in all buildings, you are saying, but risk assessment. Are you satisfied that that is done in all highrise buildings or is it your job to make yourself sure that it is being done in all buildings?

Peter Holland: It is the responsibility of fire and rescue authorities to ensure fire risk assessments. They will audit to see if fire risk assessments are, firstly, being carried out and that they are suitable and sufficient. You are asking me my view on some of those, and some of the standard of fire risk assessments is not what they should be. Some people have not had fire risk assessments carried out when they should have done. It is important. The fire sector responded to concerns in the last few years around fire risk assessment, and people need to be assured that, when they contact somebody to do a fire risk assessment, they are capable of carrying out a quality fire risk assessment, which is really important for the reassurance of the public. The fire and rescue service’s job is to audit those fire risk assessments.

Q43 Chair: You are saying that all those things are not necessarily happening everywhere throughout the country at present.

Peter Holland: No, they are not. Going back to Mr Morris’s point, that is the role of the enforcement side of the fire and rescue service to ensure that is happening. That is a judgment call for a fire and rescue authority to decide on how much resource they want to put in, depending on the standard that they are finding in their area.

Q44 Chair: Given your concerns, would you be looking to give some advice to the Minister about maybe some better guidance to fire authorities, up and down the country, to make sure this is happening? It is a very serious issue if it is not happening.

Peter Holland: The guidance is there. Fire and rescue authorities do know-

Chair: So they are not following it then.

Peter Holland: No, I think fire and rescue authorities are following it, but there are an awful lot of premises out there, an awful lot of buildings that need to be visited and occupiers who need to be visited.

Q45 Chair: What are we going to do to make sure it is happening?

Peter Holland: Where there are errant people and it is clear they are acting outside the law, because that is what they are doing if they have not had a fire risk assessment, if it is the first time they will give advice accordingly to the occupier of the premises. Where you have people who are flouting the law-and there have been several occasions of some very highprofile prosecutions of hotel owners and occupiers who just have not had suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments carried out-they should be taken to task, and magistrates and judges have frowned upon that. Judging by the size of the fines and the sentences that have been imposed, they have taken that very seriously indeed. That sends out very positive messages to people who are not complying.

Q46 John Pugh: In the case, Mr Holland, of a major national emergency, say a fire at a nuclear power station or something like that, what is your role?

Peter Holland: Where it is a major national emergency, the emergency room in the Department for Communities and Local Government would be set up. I would be the lead person on that to help coordinate national assets and advise Ministers on what fire and rescue service resources could be brought to bear to assist in that. We have a pretty sophisticated system in operation now, through the National Resilience Assurance Team, which is based at the Fire Service College at MoretoninMarsh, which has subject matter advisers on the equipment that the Government provided about eight or nine years ago, which involves highvolume pumping vehicles, detection monitoring equipment, enhanced logistics i.e. command vehicles that go out and support-there is a lot of equipment out there-mass decontamination resources if they were required. That is coordinated centrally from a room within the Department for Communities and Local Government. I would also, if required, go to COBRA to advise whoever was chairing COBRA.

Q47 John Pugh: Just on that specifically, you may be aware that the Chief Fire Officers Association has expressed some unease about how capable you are of performing that latter function of advising the Government in COBRA, given the limited time available and the other operational responsibilities you have just described. How would you respond to that, given you do have limited time?

Peter Holland: I do have limited time but, as a former Chief Fire Officer, I was used to working seven days a week. I do have a BlackBerry and I am contactable most of time but, accepting that I do occasionally have some free time and I might not be readily available, there are arrangements in place, through National Strategic Advisers around the country, who would come in and take on the role that I would perform in my absence.

Q48 John Pugh: Somebody might substitute for you.

Peter Holland: Not might-would. On the two occasions when I have been out of the country on holiday, I have made sure that somebody was in place to take on my responsibility within that emergency room and within COBRA.

Q49 John Pugh: The unease of your fellow Chief Fire Officers is misplaced.

Peter Holland: All I can say is the people who have told you that are clearly not the ones who are involved in giving the support to ensure that there is 24/7 cover.

John Pugh: They are looking in from the outside.

Brandon Lewis: From the point of view of the appointment, I know the Chief Fire Officers Association has expressed that view. The reality is we have a Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser. It is appropriate that that person is the adviser who attends COBRA. Part of the problem with the argument that they put that you have just outlined is on the same basis that they themselves have got other commitments, because they are Chief Fire Officers in their own areas. They might be part of the emergency we are dealing with. It is absolutely appropriate that the Government’s adviser is the person who sits on COBRA and there are, as Peter has said, procedures in place if he was otherwise detained out of the country or something. The way COBRA is set up is the right way to do it, at the moment.

John Pugh: We would hope so.

Q50 Chair: Minister, the fire service has had significant reductions in Government grant in the Comprehensive Spending Review round. Alright, they have been backloaded towards the last two years but you have now appointed Sir Ken Knight in his partial retirement to do this review of the fire service. Is that primarily about advising fire services and fire authorities now how to make the more significant cuts they are going to have to make in the next two years?

Brandon Lewis: In terms of where we will be in terms of funding, we will know later in the summer, once we have the Spending Review, what is coming down. We have already given some predictions-"indicative figures" is probably a better description-for 201415. The fire service does have its part to play. I cannot answer for Sir Ken in terms of what will be in his independent review. He is always there looking over us, literally this afternoon, as we have noted. When Sir Ken’s review is published, obviously we will have a look at it. That will no doubt start a debate for us all to take part in, and then we will respond to it in due course.

Coming to the core of your question, Chairman, the reason I asked Sir Ken to take on this review in the first place is that we have a fire service where, when I go around the country, even in the early days, it is very clear we have some really innovative work going on. One of the things that is interesting is to be able to draw out some of the really good work. Similarly with local government, we have some areas of local government doing some really innovative work and others, not so much. It is how we can look at drawing out some of the opportunities that are out there, some of the things that are working in some places, so we can start to get a better idea of what the best practice is, in terms of sharing it, with the full appreciation and understanding that what will work in one area will not necessarily work in another. Our mets are very different from our rural areas; urban is different again. We have to be acuter. It is looking at what the practice is out there, asking some of the questions and making some of the points, whichever way Sir Ken decides to do it. That does start a debate. It is to look at just how we can draw that out. That may well be helpful to other authorities in terms of how they are doing their planning, but we will have to see what is in his review when he publishes it.

Q51 Chair: The fire service is probably different from many other public services in that, trying to plan for the future, the issue of risk has to be at the core of that future planning. To what extent, recognising that there are going to be reductions in public expenditure, according to the Chancellor, beyond this Spending Review period, is an assessment of risk going to be at the heart of any decisions about future Government expenditure on the fire service?

Brandon Lewis: It is absolutely right. The fire Chiefs and fire authorities around the country should be setting their budget according to risk. Obviously they will be doing that within the envelope that is set. There is a very key point there about making sure we are budgeting to risk. I do appreciate that some authorities will make the point that they have found the last couple of years quite difficult. It has been difficult, because there have been reductions in some cases, rather than increases. This year we gave some flexibility to some authorities around the de minimis opportunities for them, but we do still have authorities that are providing a fantastic service and being innovative. There are still some that can go further, I think. There are still some that have been meeting to build up reserves at the same time as saying they do not have enough money. I still cannot quite work out how they square that off. In terms of the risk, it is an issue that the Chiefs and the fire authorities have to look at, in terms of budgeting to the risks they have for their particular locality.

Q52 Chair: The Government has to do that as well, has it not?

Brandon Lewis: In terms of looking at what the Government has, Government expenditure has to reduce. We have to start living within our means. The local government family, of which fire is a part, plays a huge part in that, roughly 25% of public expenditure, so there is a role we have to play in being very realistic about the fact that we have to look at whether we can do things more efficiently and effectively. We have protected the fire service beyond the protection that was there for local government. As you rightly said, Chairman, it was backloaded to give the fire service some time to move into these changes. Some services are doing some really interesting work around that, but I do not want to go too far down predicting what may or may not be in Sir Ken’s review, in terms of what has been happening around the country.

Q53 Chair: If risk is at the heart of any future spending plans for each individual fire service, and therefore ought to be at the heart of what Government is looking at, in terms of its spending plans, is the Government going to produce a risk assessment as part of the 201516 Spending Review?

Brandon Lewis: Let us be clear: the way that we fund local government and the way that we fund the fire and rescue authorities themselves is already in the public domain. They are part of the Business Rates Retention Scheme. They have some protection in there around that as well, in terms of not just the safety net, but about effectively being topup authorities, so we get the benefit of RPI increases. They are in there, but we have no plans to make any further changes to the way that we structure the funding for the fire service, in terms of how it is structured in that way.

Q54 Chair: There is going to be no tweaking of the allocations between authorities according to any risk assessment that might be done?

Brandon Lewis: I do not think so, in the terms that you are talking about. One of the things that we have looked at this year with local government generally, and we did this in the February 2013 settlement, was that they were able to make some money available to local government that fire authorities can bid for, in terms of encouraging them to look at efficiencies and the Transformational Challenge Award fund there. The fire authorities can look at bidding for that as well and we will look at whether we can do something similar next year. The basic framework will stay as is.

Q55 Chair: Mr Holland, obviously you have not been involved in drawing up the basic framework, because you were not in post at the time, but would you be, as part of your role, advising Ministers about the risk element and, therefore, what role that might play in determining future spending allocations? Some areas have far higher risk than others, have they not, and clearly have greater likely demands on the fire service than others would have.

Brandon Lewis: Just before Mr Holland answers that, let us bear in mind that how the risk is assessed across the country is already built into the startup funding assessments in the first place. That is already built in there, in terms of where they are at. In terms of any further changes, we are locked into the Business Rates Retention Scheme, but in the initial startup assessments have built in what is already there. At the moment, that is what is set and has gone on in the past, in the experience that Government has had.

Peter Holland: The assessments of risk that are carried out in fire and rescue services tend to be predominantly around life risk. Most people lose their lives sadly in the home, rather than in commerce and industry. I know lots of services have expressed concern around the amount of support that is given in relation to the large industrial sites, but most of those large industrial sites do have responsibilities to provide some fire cover themselves, which they do. In terms of the assessment of risk, they work very closely with the Chief Fire Officers locally. If a service was really struggling to provide fire cover, I am sure that is when I might well be asked to provide advice on whether that service is capable or not of meeting that risk, if pressure really came on. I do not think services are quite in that place.

Brandon Lewis: It is again just worth noting-I know we have earlier to an extent as well-that we are in an environment where callouts have fallen by around 50%. Funding is obviously not falling in anything like that kind of degree. We have seen an increase in quite a lot of areas in the number of frontline staff that we have as well. In terms of relating it to risk, I do not have any concern about that when we bear in mind, as I say, that the callouts the fire service is dealing with have dropped by around 50%.

Q56 Chair: The reality is that it is not just large industrial sites that the met areas have been arguing about in terms of their funding reductions. I accept the Government did go some way to recognising those in the second half of the Spending Review. It is also about areas of severe deprivation in the met areas, where there are more of them, and those are areas where people are more likely to die from fire.

Brandon Lewis: Yes, but that is also built into the startup assessment anyway.

Q57 Chair: It is built in, but then I suppose the reductions were greater in those areas, as well, were they not, over the fouryear period?

Brandon Lewis: Again, there was protection because it was backloaded.

Q58 Chair: What I am trying to get at as well is how far, Mr Holland, you would be involved in giving advice on those sorts of points, or is it all technical?

Peter Holland: You are quite right and thank you for pointing it out; areas of social deprivation are higher risk and fire and rescue services accept that. I would be surprised if services wanted to reduce the level of emergency cover in the highestrisk areas, the sorts of areas you are talking about, rather than looking at the areas that are much lower risk, where you do not have areas of social deprivation.

Q59 John Pugh: Can we talk a little about Firebuy, which I think we would all agree has not been a great success? The National Audit Office, when they concluded, were pretty damning and Mr Morse said, "I cannot conclude … that, in all material respects, the expenditure and income have been applied to the purposes intended by Parliament and conform to the authorities which govern them." I think, Mr Holland, you were the Chair of Firebuy.

Peter Holland: No, there was a different Peter Holland who was Chair of Firebuy.

John Pugh: You were not appointed Chair of Firebuy.

Peter Holland: No.

John Pugh: In which case, I apologise to you.

Peter Holland: I do know him. I have met him, but it is not me.

John Pugh: I have been sadly misinformed. I am glad you have cleared that up anyway, so we will pass on to the next question. It is not relevant to ask the Minister what lessons have been learned, I do not think, given this does not pertain to this particular area.

Peter Holland: In terms of procurement generally?

Q60 John Pugh: I was going to follow it through by saying what lessons were learned from that. We may be commenting on the other Mr Holland here, but the Minister could comment on what lessons followed from that.

Brandon Lewis: If you want some colour, one of the problems with Firebuy was it just did not manage to get the revenue to cover its costs, partly because it was not able to really get the buyin from the sector itself. For me, one of the lessons from that is making sure that, if we are looking to go down this road, we want to see better procurement generally across the sector. It needs to be sectorled and, therefore, we need to be engaging the sector and I think we have done. The Chief Fire Officers Association is doing some very good work around this as well, about bringing the services together to be talking to each other more to be smarter about how they procure locally.

Again, there is an issue that we will see slightly different procurement in different places. In London, for example, we have seen the force in London procuring Minis, because around the roads in London they think the Mini is a really good asset for them. We have seen in the West Midlands they are looking at 4x4s and different things like that. Down in the South West, they are looking at lightweight pumps to be able to get around the roads quicker. We will see differences like that, but we are also making sure that they are having that interaction amongst themselves within the sector and encouraging them to procure better. A lot of that is around sharing best practice and I have to give some credit to the Chief Fire Officers Association for going quite a long way to start doing that job, so it becomes sectorled, rather than us from the centre trying to drive something that does not have the buyin of the sector itself.

Q61 John Pugh: Following on that and lessons learned, the previous administration’s FiReControl project closed in December 2010 to be replaced by more locally based systems, schemes and improvement plans. What role will you, Mr Holland, play in examining those and checking the adequacy of the plans, if any?

Peter Holland: The bids that were made by fire and rescue services last year were audited by my predecessor and people within the Department, looking at it from the point of view of just where it sat from the perspective of improving the service that is being delivered and whether it met the specification. I am very satisfied that the ones that were successful, there will only be 22 FiReControls in the country and it will save an awful lot of money and provide significantly better service.

If I give you a really good example, there will be automatic caller identification, so somebody driving down the M6 motorway from Scotland to London probably would not have a clue which county they were in; they would know they were on the M6 motorway. The minute they dialled 999, the person answering the phone in the control room would know exactly where that person was and be able to pinpoint it. I know from my own experience that the call handling time for those sorts of calls is significantly higher, not surprisingly, than it would be from somebody phoning from their own home, so you are getting a much faster speed of response. You also have automatic vehicle location systems.

Q62 John Pugh: You will play a continuing monitoring role.

Peter Holland: Only if I am asked to.

Q63 John Pugh: Only if you are asked to, okay. With regard to the Fire Service College that has been sold to Capita, have you a role in ensuring that it continues to provide the appropriate national training facilities?

Peter Holland: No I have not, but if I was asked to-

Brandon Lewis: As part of the deal that was done with Capita to do that, there were covenants in there to protect, so that they do have to do that. That is protected.

Q64 John Pugh: It is a ministerial responsibility.

Brandon Lewis: Yes, and I am going to take the opportunity to just laud it. One of the benefits we have already seen, following the Fire Service College moving into the private ownership of Capita, is that they are already putting quite substantial investment in there, redeveloping the accommodation, working with the Chief Fire Officers Association to make sure that they have got it to a standard where the fire service itself wants to make more and more use of it. What we want to see happen is seeing use of it across the sector, so we have the fire service along with the other emergency services working together more and taking advantage of what is a fantastic facility, which is getting a phenomenal investment at the moment. The training side of it is protected and has to remain.

John Pugh: It falls within ministerial responsibility.

Brandon Lewis: Yes.

Q65 Simon Danczuk: Minister, the Fire Brigades Union has expressed concern about the number of new entrants to the fire service who are not joining the pension scheme. Is the fire and rescue services’ scheme sustainable in the medium to long term, do you think?

Brandon Lewis: Yes.

Simon Danczuk: You have no worries about it.

Brandon Lewis: No.

Simon Danczuk: Firefighters should be happy and content that you have everything in hand and it is going to be sorted.

Brandon Lewis: We need to look at it in context. It is still one of the best pension schemes there is. It is one of the best in the public sector. If you compare it to the private sector, for somebody who is earning £28,500 to get a £19,000 pension at 60 would have to put in double the money that a firefighter does, so it is a very good scheme. We have to be cautious; I am not sure what figures you are basing it on. You are talking about 25% of the FBU quote. You have to bear in mind they are making some assumptions that we do not necessarily agree with, in terms of including people in it who are already getting a pension and are over 50 when they come in. If we look at some of the younger entrants who are coming in now, it is about a 90% takeup. As this is a Governmentbased scheme, yes; it is entirely sustainable.

Q66 Simon Danczuk: You are giving them some comfort everything is fine for the medium to long term, in terms of their pensions.

Brandon Lewis: It is a very good pension scheme.

Q67 Simon Danczuk: Okay, fair enough. The other issue that the Fire Brigades Union raises is this issue around the insufficient number of nonoperational jobs, and this idea, I think it was agreed in 2006, that the retirement age would reach up to the age of 60, but obviously not all firefighters are capable, at that age, to be able to fight fires, so the alternative is to move them into what they call ‘nonoperational jobs’. The Fire Brigades Union is saying that there are not enough nonoperational jobs, and there is a figure being quoted of only 16 nonoperational jobs for a uniformed workforce over 43,000. What do you say to that?

Brandon Lewis: First of all, I would say that the pensionable age at 60 we think-bear in mind that the previous Government was consulting in 2005 on a normal pension age of 65. At that time, it appeared that it was accepted that a scheme based on a national age of 60 was workable. What an individual fire authority does is a matter for that local fire authority, in terms of how they manage their workforce and their staff.

Q68 Simon Danczuk: Not many fire authorities are providing nonoperational jobs. Does that not give you cause for concern?

Brandon Lewis: It is a matter for the individual fire authority to assess their HR: what they do and how they structure it. It would be wrong for us to centrally start dictating to them what to do, bearing in mind that we want to allow the local fire authorities to have that autonomy and local accountability.

Q69 Simon Danczuk: Peter, what is your view on the sustainability of a retirement age at 60?

Peter Holland: I think it is sustainable. The onus is on firefighters to keep themselves fit, as it always has been. There have always been firefighters who have had difficulties in maintaining fitness levels below 55. That is a managerial issue that services have had to deal with and have successfully dealt with, with lots of those. You are quite right: the opportunities to redeploy people on the same salary are not there, but there are opportunities to redeploy people in other jobs. They are tough management decisions that need to be taken, but every Chief Fire Officer would do everything they can to try to keep a firefighter that they have trained and spent a lot of money on. You are talking about somebody who has probably spent 2025 years in the service. The last thing they would want to do is lose them, so they would encourage them to stay in the service.

A great example is a young firefighter from Hereford and Worcester who lost the bottom part of his leg, who is now back as an operational firefighter. That is a great example of where the service has worked to help that individual. My old service assessed his competence and capabilities, and he was absolutely fantastic.

Brandon Lewis: In Dr Williams’ report, he does make it clear that it is perfectly reasonable and quite possible for people in the fire service to be able to maintain that level of fitness required to be able to work at 60.

Q70 Chair: Minister, you said it is down to each individual fire service-and ultimately it is-how they deal with their employees, but the pension scheme they are working to is a national pension scheme, which is Government determined to that extent. I take the point again: in the long term, people, if they join a service, know what the retirement age is and know what the expectation of their fitness is that is fine, but when the last review was done, it was clearly laid down that, if people were not fit once they got to 5657, there will be alternative jobs available for them. That is what the agreement was and it is not there, is it? The opportunities simply are not there for fire services to provide those different jobs for people now.

Brandon Lewis: When you look at a normal pension age of 60, it was considered workable. I do think it is workable, in the sense that the fitness levels in Dr Williams’ report confirm that it is perfectly reasonable for people to retain the right level of fitness. It is for the local fire authorities and the Fire Chiefs to look at how they use their resources in terms of their personnel and how they allocate them. It is not for us to dictate that. Equally, if a firefighter is not physically able to continue in their role until 60 and want to retire, they are able to do that as well. There are actuarial adjustments they can make to leave, particularly at 57 obviously.

Q71 Chair: The problem is surely that those actuarial adjustments mean a lower pension. That is what we are talking about. If people are faced with that, is there not a danger that, even though they are not really absolutely fully fit for that job, they will try to make the best of it and carry on because they want to have their full pension? Is that not then a danger to the public and to the service?

Brandon Lewis: If somebody is not fully fit to do their job, you are quite right, Chair, there is a danger there, but that is why there is a responsibility on the Chief Fire Officer to make sure that does not happen. The Chief Fire Officer has, as much as ever, a responsibility to their staff in looking after their staff and making sure they are allocated correctly. They also have a responsibility to make sure they are capable of doing the job. That comes back to making sure that they are fit enough to do the job, and a Chief Fire Officer, I am sure, would take that part of their role-Peter might correlate this from his experience-very seriously to make sure their staff are fully capable of doing the job. That is part of their risk assessment in making sure they are giving the right protection to the people of their community.

Q72 Chair: If Chief Fire Officers up and down the country, therefore, started saying and feeding back information to you that they were now having to get rid of more and more people below 60, because they were not fit enough to do the job, and they could not offer them any alternatives, as was initially intentioned by the last review of pensions, would you then be prepared to look at it? If they were saying, "Look, we are trying to redeploy; we can’t. There aren’t the opportunities. We are having to get rid of people. They aren’t fit for historical reasons. In the future, we can see a different situation but, here and now, we have a problem," would you respond to that?

Brandon Lewis: At the moment, as I say, there is the ability for them to do exactly that. Obviously the actuarial differences change, whether it is 55 or 57, particularly at 55. At 57, there is certainly an opportunity for people to do that already in the system. I do not see at the moment that that is a situation that we need to particularly change.

Q73 Chair: Mr Holland, are your excolleagues, if you like, as Chief Fire Officers, indicating a problem to you?

Peter Holland: People are understandably concerned and aware of the potential difficulties. It is a managerial issue that is manageable. It is a tough management decision that would need to be taken under those circumstances. Every Chief Fire Officer in the country has had to face dealing with people who are under 55, under those circumstances. Somebody retiring with a slightly reduced pension still has a good pension that they would be retiring with.

Q74 Chair: So there is no problem.

Peter Holland: It is not an insurmountable problem, no.

Brandon Lewis: As Peter said, managing the workforce is part of our Chief Officers’ role-any chief officers, as any leaders of an organisation I know that is something they take very seriously. We have very good Chiefs around the country, who will work for the best interests, not just of their own teams and firefighters, but making sure that the community is protected by a very good team. It is part of their role to manage that. Nobody is pretending it is easy, but that is why being a Chief is an important role.

Q75 Mrs Glindon: I want to ask questions about electrical safety in the home. Mr Holland, the electrical industry believes that electrical safety in the home can be greatly improved by increasing customer awareness of the dangers of employing substandard electricians or of doing work themselves. What more could the fire and rescue services do to increase awareness of electrical safety in the home?

Peter Holland: When they do the home fire safety checks, electrical safety is an important issue that is raised with people, about not overloaded sockets and those sorts of things. When you have electrical work done on your property you will get a certificate that tells you that this person is signed up and accredited by the Institution of Electrical Engineers. The systems are in place, I believe and am confident, to make sure that, if people ask the right question and ask for the certificate, they should not be getting work done by an unqualified electrician.

Brandon Lewis: If you do not mind, I will just go a little bit further as well, in the sense that the Fire Kills campaign plays a huge part in the education of people. We have seen a huge improvement this year in the numbers of tests. It went from 11% to 18% this year. There is also being launched, probably at the LGA conference this year, one of the Fire Kills advocates, who is the Fire Authority Chief in Devon and Somerset, has put together a programme that is very useful. It is for the private rented sector, but it applies anywhere. I am looking forward to seeing more and more people see this. It is a very clear, simple interactive program to show people where there might be risks in the home. It is a phenomenal tool in terms of taking the next stage of education forward, which will be a great asset for people as well, as part of the Fire Kills campaign.

Q76 Mrs Glindon: You said that was interactive, Minister, so people have to be able to use some interactive device.

Brandon Lewis: It can be put on a screen or on a computer, and people can click on different parts of the room and it will show them if there is a risk there, what that risk is and how it develops. It is a superb tool that they have developed down in Devon and Somerset, and great credit to them. I think they are launching it at the LGA, so I have probably given away a bit of their thunder there, but they deserve some credit for the work they have done on that.

Peter Holland: The staff in the Department do work with the Electrical Safety Council during Electrical Fire Safety Week to raise awareness on fire safety issues. It was only a couple of years ago that I had some interactions with the Electrical Safety Council, and there are some really good working relationships going on through the Chief Fire Officers Association and people who work in the Fire Policy Unit at the Department.

Brandon Lewis: Inspiration does happen in these cases. Going back to the very simple points that Peter made earlier about home inspections, they also play quite a big part in making sure that people are educated around where dangers are and what they can do to limit it. Last year alone, there were 770,000 checks and that is building year on year, as more and more are done. The service is doing a fantastic job with that.

Peter Holland: Most of those are going to be in households where people are at higher risk, where the standards are likely to be lower in some cases, where firefighters doing a home fire safety check who pick up that electrical installation might be substandard will do something about it and assist that person, contact their landlords and assist them accordingly.

Q77 Mrs Glindon: These all sound very good things that can help us with safety in the home. Gas Safe, which exists for work undertaken in homes by gas engineers, is something that helps safety or advises on safety and seems to work. Would you consider that something similar for electrical work done in the home would be useful for the fire and rescue services to, with the benefit from that, be able to advise consumers about electrical safety by being able to refer them to something similar to Gas Safe, but on electrical work?

Brandon Lewis: You are tempting us down the road of regulation policy. If you do not mind, I would not want to impede on the remit of my colleague, Mr Foster, so that might be put to him.

Q78 Chair: We are engaged with Don Foster on that very issue. Finally, in terms of crossing boundaries, Mr Holland, would anyone ask for your advice about the proposed changes on whether competent persons should be the ones who do work in kitchens and bathrooms? The Government’s just changed the regulations on that.

Peter Holland: I am not aware of that. From what, from a fire safety point of view?

Chair: Yes.

Peter Holland: Kitchens and bathrooms-I am sorry, I have no-

Chair: You were not consulted about that.

Peter Holland: I certainly was not. I do not know whether the Department was. It is quite possible they were.

Chair: You would not have a view on that. We could not take you down that road either.

Peter Holland: No.

Chair: Okay, fine. Thank you very much indeed for coming, Minister, as usual. Thank you very much for your evidence this afternoon, Mr Holland. We are not in a position to say we approve of your appointment, because it has already happened in the way it has been done, but I think what we can do is to give you our best wishes. Thank you for your evidence. We look forward to seeing you again on future occasions.

Prepared 24th May 2013