Fire and rescue
In partnership with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), we have prepared a separate submission on fire and rescue services. This short summary should be read together with that comprehensive document.
Over a decade of austerity has had a significant impact on fire and rescue services (FRSs), resulting in a real-terms cut of 34 per cent in standalone fire and rescue authority (FRA) budgets and a consequent decline in staff numbers between 2009-2021.
Despite this, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) highlighted in their 2018/19 national report significant strengths in the commitment of staff, dedication to protecting life and property, life-saving prevention initiatives, highly-skilled emergency response and the admiration in which services are held by the public.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, FRSs have further demonstrated their ability to support other agencies in times of crisis, utilising the wide geographical spread of local resources and high levels of public trust to support vulnerable people in their communities. This also shows how the sector is well-placed to respond to other emergencies, such as flooding.
FRSs face a wide array of challenges which affect different areas in different ways:
Unlike some public services, which are demand-led, FRSs need to have enough resources to provide an emergency response even in times of exceptional demand. Further reductions in firefighter numbers would compromise services’ ability to meet the risks they face. To at least maintain the current activity and the current firefighter numbers, an inflationary increase to fire funding will be needed. The council tax referendum limit has to abolished – failing that, further flexibility to increase the council tax precept by up to £5 for a Band D household will be needed to build on existing improvement activity, particularly around technological innovation and cultural change. As a short-term measure, the Home Office should also consider the provision of a special grant for services that have acute financial difficulties that without this support could result in either a financial or operational failure.
With the majority of authority fire service budgets being made up of workforce pay and pensions, there are major pressures on both across the sector. Direct and indirect inflationary pressures on staff costs will have a significant impact on FRS budgets, and will need to be fully funded. Looking forward, it is clear that the sector would need an increase in central FRS funding if it is going to reform employees’ roles in line with ongoing and emerging objectives. Government support for a review would be welcome but any further reforms would need to be supported and sustained by government funding. Previous costing estimates through the LGA and NFCC’s ‘Fit for the Future’ work have been in the region of 15 per cent of the pay bill. Each percentage point increase in pay is equivalent to £12.5 million per year. In addition, consideration needs to be given to how the retained duty system can be made sustainable for all FRSs that rely on retained duty firefighters.
Pension cost pressures and administration issues are a significant risk to FRAs’ budgets. The 2016 Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) increased employer pensions costs by 12.6 per cent which equated in 2019/20 to £125 million. While the Home Office funded £115 million of this cost in 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22, and the amount will be added to base budgets in 2022/23, pay cost increases will increase employers’ pension costs and these need to be funded. Additionally, the costs arising from the legislation and policy changes to address the age discrimination identified by the courts in McCloud – v – Sargeant, as well as the ability for retained firefighters to join the 2006 Firefighters Pension Scheme following the ruling in O’Brien – v – Matthews, need to be funded.
The renewal of the national resilience (New Dimension) assets is estimated to cost £100 million in addition to the implementation of the Emergency Services Network – the roll-out of which has been delayed, increasing the costs of the programme. Neither of these costs should be placed on FRA budgets.
Improvement activity is also a significant area of work which services are undertaking following the publication of the ‘Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1’ (GT1) report and the first HMICFRS ‘State of Fire’ report. In 2020/21, the sector was granted £20 million for enhanced protection activity and a further £10 million for the implementation of the GT1 recommendations. This investment needs to continue over the Spending Review period to ensure the continued improvement of protection teams and to retain capability.
New burdens being placed on the FRS through the introduction of new legislation also need to be funded. The Government is currently consulting on the last of the recommendations of phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and is about to commence the Fire Safety Act 2021 later this year. Together, these measures will incur familiarisation costs and ongoing operational costs. In addition, the Government’s impact assessment on the Building Safety Bill estimates that fire and rescue authorities will collectively see an increase in costs on an equivalent annual cost (EAC) basis of between £10.8 million and £15.7 million. As the impact assessment does not break down all costs by the individual elements of the proposed regulatory regime, the full cost of the Bill to FRS remains unclear; but training needs that will arise from the Bill need to be taken into account.
Governance is a central pillar of the fire sector and elected members have a key role to play, setting the policy direction for their services and challenging them to make improvements where necessary. Sector-led improvement is a key element of improving the capabilities of elected members to fulfil this responsibility. The Home Office should work with the LGA on a £115,000 programme of member development and support the development of a programme of activity around principles of good governance and decision-making, and equality, diversity and inclusion.
To strengthen delivery of reform and as part of ‘Fit for the Future’ there is a need for a group of improvement specialists tasked with supporting the implementation of reform at the local level within FRSs in England. Such implementation support will be a vital part of securing success. It is recognised that both parties need government funding in order to progress this initiative. From an LGA perspective this would require funding to be put in place to provide increased employment law and industrial relations support for FRSs at a cost of £200,331 in year one, rising by inflation estimates in years two and three.
To support the sector with monitoring and supporting how it measures efficiency and productivity gains, Government support for an Efficiency in Fire Board would be welcome. The Board would support the sector with these issues and bring together key stakeholders.
Licensing fees were set nationally in 2005 when the Licensing Act 2003 was implemented and have not been updated since. Survey work undertaken as part of the regulatory services task and finish group asked councils what fee levels would cover the actual costs incurred in issuing various licences, indicating significant shortfalls as follows:
temporary event notice: statutory fee £21, actual costs to councils ranging between £39–£100
variation of a premises licence: statutory fee £89, actual costs to councils ranging between £85–£216.
Unlike other sectors, food businesses are not required to pay a fee or secure a licence before they can begin trading, simply completing a registration form. This is despite the fact that food regulation typically accounts for the greatest proportion of officer time within local regulatory services.
We accept that now is not the right time to increase fee levels or introduce new fees. Businesses hit hard by the pandemic, particularly in the hospitality sector, need to be given time to recover and thrive. But current shortfalls cannot go on indefinitely, and the Government should begin work now to explore where nationally-set fees are set too low to recover costs and to progress the recommendations of the Regulatory Futures Review on implementing proportionate charges on the businesses that benefit from regulation. This is because by the time of the next expected Spending Review in three years’ time, the imperative to restore public finances following the impact of the pandemic is likely to outweigh current concern about the introduction of comparatively minor fees on businesses.
The pandemic saw several extremism and cohesion challenges for local areas, including rises in recorded hate crimes across four of the six hate motivations. As we begin to build back, work that supports community cohesion and resilience building will go hand in hand with programmes to tackle disparities and support left-behind communities, addressing many of the issues that can lead to division and polarisation.
Investment in early intervention and prevention programmes, including integration, counter-extremism and Prevent initiatives and the Special Interest Group on Countering Extremism, continues to be vitally important and must be secured.
Government has also announced plans to introduce a new ‘protect duty’ to improve safety and security at public venues and spaces. We expect that this will have several implications for local authorities and may include imposing a new duty on councils for undertaking the inspection element of the duty proposals at local level. Given the large number of venues covered by the scope of the duty as it currently stands, this additional inspection burden over and above existing council inspection activity would need considerable dedicated resources to fulfil and must be fully funded as part of the new burdens doctrine.
The Prime Minister has outlined that if we are to succeed in levelling up this country, we must give everyone the security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home.
The Government’s Beating Crime Plan outlines a commitment to confront serious violence, neighbourhood crime and anti-social behaviour head on. It also identifies important commitments to tackle violence against women and girls, child sexual exploitation, and wider community safety issues.
Councils have a crucial role to play in preventing crime, supporting victims and creating safer and stronger communities. Although there was a fall in some crime types during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were significant increases in reports of domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour incidents, and many other crime patterns have since resumed after lockdown.
Law enforcement and criminal justice measures are only part of the response needed to tackle crime. A multi-agency partnership approach is required, working across government departments and all agencies, including the police, health, charities and a range of local government services such as, education, social services and youth services.
Councils have found that when seeking to set up a new project or service, one-year or short-term funding granted by government departments had made it more difficult to gain buy-in from some partners and providers to commit and invest resources for a short period of time. Longer-term funding commitments from Government would enable local authorities to justify investment and secure a longer-term commitment from partners.
We would also urge the Government to ensure the work of Violence Reduction Units is adequately resourced and extended to all police forces in England and Wales with five-year funding settlements, rather than year-on-year commitments.
Domestic abuse can have a long-term and devastating impact on families and particularly children. It is the most common reason for children to be classed as ‘in need’ and allocated a social worker. It can take the form of psychological, physical, sexual, emotional or economic abuse, and occur in a wide range of domestic settings.
The need for comprehensive domestic abuse services, and effective perpetrator interventions, could never be more crucial. These devastating accounts of domestic abuse demonstrate the importance of all partners and organisations helping to prevent and eliminate this appalling crime.
The Domestic Abuse Act outlines a new statutory duty for tier 1 local authorities (and tier 2 local authorities to co-operate) to commission domestic abuse accommodation-based support and services for domestic abuse victims and children. The Government has allocated £125 million in new burdens funding for local authorities to set up local domestic abuse partnership boards, conduct needs assessments and commission necessary accommodation-based services within this financial year.
The then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government made a commitment to continue to fund these accommodation-based support services in the next two financial years, before bringing the funding into the local government finance settlement. It is vitally important that local authorities continue to receive funding for these services, in order to implement their new statutory duty. Councils require a multi-year settlement to be able to strategically plan their services and ensure consistency and sustainability in the domestic abuse sector. Most importantly, future funding will need to be flexible and available to all councils in order to meet any increase in demand on services.
Community-based domestic abuse support services provide vital early intervention, prevention and community support for domestic abuse victims. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is undertaking a comprehensive community-based support services mapping exercise to ascertain the size of the funding gap, and we are calling on the Government to invest in these services to the value estimated by the Commissioner as soon as possible.
The Government’s New Plan for Immigration included a commitment to codify support for victims of modern slavery within UK legislation, based on the commitments the UK has signed up to through various international conventions.
Statistics show that, in 2017, the number of suspected victims of modern slavery referred into the National Referral Mechanism – the UK’s framework for referring and supporting victims – was 5,135. By the end of 2020, this number had more than doubled to 10,613. Councils themselves accounted for 28 per cent of referrals in 2020, and 90 per cent of those referred were children.
This spiralling rate of modern slavery referrals is being fuelled by an increasing awareness of the exploitation of young people by ‘county lines’ drugs gangs and is further evidence of the huge pressure on children’s services detailed earlier in this document.
However, other forms of modern slavery affecting adult victims are also contributing to this trend, and there is therefore growing demand for council housing and adult social care support that is separate to, or supplements, the specialist support provided through the modern slavery victim care contract managed by The Salvation Army.
Councils want to be able to support victims of modern slavery, but no specific funding has ever been provided for this, despite the growing number of victims and the new demands this is placing on services already under huge pressure. Outside of housing, where the Government has recently clarified that victims of modern slavery should have priority status, victims may be subject to normal eligibility criteria that do not reflect their experience as victims.
The LGA supports the need to bring clarity on the entitlement of victims of modern slavery but is also calling for this to be backed up by the necessary resources to fulfil these obligations.
Councils’ support for asylum dispersal and refugee resettlement
Councils are eager to build on their strong track record of supporting those resettling in new communities and to work with Government so that links are made across all the programmes that resettle any new arrivals. Local and national government are working together to achieve a more equitable approach to the accommodation and support of dispersed asylum-seeking adults and families. While participation in the asylum dispersal scheme is voluntary, there is no dedicated funding available for councils.
To empower councils to participate in the scheme, £250 million in annual funding is needed:
Asylum dispersal has a cost impact on homelessness, education and children’s and adult social care. This group is also more likely to require access to housing and homelessness advice in proportionately larger numbers than comparative groups. Roughly 0.11 per cent of the overall population in England access councils' homelessness advice and assistance but almost all dispersed families will access this statutory service following a positive decision on their asylum claim. There are also additional costs driven by being a dispersal area in terms of funding community and voluntary sector support, work with providers and maintaining community cohesion.
Other costs to councils include support to those with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF). An annual report from the NRPF Network showed 66 local authorities supported 2,450 households at an annual cost of £44 million. The average length of unfunded support was two years, with over three-quarters then going on to receive full access to benefits and services (updated report expected in September 2021). Councils’ discretionary support to single destitute adults widened during and after the pandemic, alongside existing statutory responsibilities to families and adults with care needs. Any potential resource impacts on councils of those that become NRPF or lose access to some entitlements as a result of failure to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme also need to be mitigated.
The success of previous resettlement schemes has led to long-term funding to support integration. Councils will have had funding to deliver the new UK Resettlement Scheme confirmed for 2021/22 and funding for future years at the same level needs to be confirmed via the Spending Review.
We welcomed the announcement of three years of funding that will support those being supported by councils and local partners under the Afghan resettlement and relocation schemes. We are keen to continue to work with Government to ensure that the funding meets our developing understanding of those people settling in new communities, particularly regarding challenges in securing permanent housing. Clear links need to be made across all the programmes that resettle asylum seekers, refugee families and children to make sure there is enough funding for all new arrivals building new lives in the UK.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)
Councils have a strong track record in welcoming asylum-seeking children, working with central government, national partners and regional bodies. As well as volunteering to support children resettled in their area, councils also volunteer to support children and young people via the National Transfer Scheme.
The need to find sustainable long-term solutions has been thrown into sharp relief by repeated crises in Kent over the last year. The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children reaching the Kent coast via small boats crossing the English Channel has been increasing rapidly since the start of the pandemic. The council has been struggling to find enough suitable accommodation; and with the capacity of the workforce being stretched, had to twice take the emergency step of indicating that they were no longer able to support children safely.
We have welcomed close working with the Home Office and the Department for Education on seeking solutions to these challenges. Additional funding will go some way to bridging the gap between government funding and what councils pay to support UASC leaving care. Councils have responded well to the new National Transfer Scheme and will continue to engage with the Home Office to try to ensure that this works in the long term.
The Department for Education is in the process of reviewing new burdens funding related to the Children and Social Work Act 2017 duty to provide personal adviser support to all care leavers up to the age of 25. We welcome this review, with further funding vital to ensure that UASC leaving care receive the support they need as they navigate their new lives in this country or manage lengthy asylum claim processes. This is particularly important noting the escalating numbers of UASC care leavers being supported by councils: the number of UASC care leavers aged 18–21 has increased by 44 per cent since 2018 from 7,060 – to 10,170 in 2020.
The ongoing challenges faced by councils in ensuring that the needs of children can be met are not just linked to the grant funding, but also relate to access to therapeutic services, places to learn English, legal advice, and translation services, as well as an effective age assessment, decision-making process and sharing the risks around legal challenge.
We look forward to continuing our engagement across Government and with other partners on ensuring access and funding for these challenges and on meeting the true cost of councils’ statutory responsibilities for this group.