The changes to the fire service and the police service since 1979

Throughout England there was a strongly unionised local government sector, which was renowned for strikes and many other forms of industrial disruption. This situation reached its peak in 1979 with the ‘Winter of Discontent’, which helped over through James Callaghan’s Labour government to Margaret Thatcher for the Conservative Party.

Margaret Thatcher was the first lady Prime Minister and had power over the conservative party until the 1990’s, until John Major took over.

(However in 1997 the Conservative government lost to Tony Blair who is the leader of the Labour government, and is still in-control of the New Labour Party today.)

At this time the local authorities became a target from the government, which aimed to roll back the burdening public sector. They also looked at liberating the forces of the market.

Margaret Thatcher’s intention was to make this country more privatised. By doing this we saw trade unions loosing power and we also saw a big decrease in state support. Thatcher did this by selling all companies i.e. British rail to the highest bidder, thus making this country more privatised.

Thatcher cut all public services funding down apart from the police force; she gave them a 50% pay rise, as she wanted more order over the country. Thus many people wanted to join the police service. Meanwhile in other public service there was a staff shortage.

Thatcher made other changes to the public sector as a whole; Thatcher didn’t actually make changes to every public sector. So the fire service had to make changes, within their workforce, to comply with the demands of Thatcher.

In the period of 1979 to 1997, successive Conservative governments brought about a radical and qualitative change in the financing of local authorities. (Atkinson and Wilks-Heeg, 2000, p85).

In 1980 the Conservative government brought out this new act, which was to revolutionise all public services. The Local Government, Planning Act 1980 this introduced new provisions relating to the 3 main areas of reform:

o Finance

o Functions

o Market

This new act introduced Compulsory, Competitive, and Tendering.

Best value replaced compulsory competitive tendering. Authorities are no longer required to subject services to competition and success will not be measured according to how many services are subjected to competitive tender. The Government is less interested in who provides a service or how it is provided than whether it makes a positive difference to the services local people receive. But it believes that fair and open competition will most often be the best way of demonstrating that a function is being carried out competitively. It is the provision of services either locally or nationally and is looking for different ways services can be delivered by a mix of service providers from the public, private, and voluntary sectors. (

This act was later extended in 1988

There were three components of the process of public sector reform in the UK. Privatisation is the sale of state assets to a private buyer. Disengagement is the substitution of arm’s length regulation for direct political control. Liberalisation is the removal of statutory restrictions on competition. (

In 1982 Margaret Thatcher brought out the Audit commission. This was to change the public sector as we knew it. They were responsible to ensure that public money was being spent economically, efficiently and effectively. (The 3 e’s of management). They are there to implement improvement in the public services, and by doing that they help those responsible for public services to achieve better results. These are independent people who write the reports on the fire service.

For the fire service worked is carried out by the ODPM. They have to research on issues such as

o Fire safety and prevention,

o National policy,

o Developing legislation and guidance,

o Advice and support to fire authorities and Brigades,

o Arson reduction

After they have found all the information they write a report and take it back to the government to see f that fire station is meeting national targets. By setting national targets the government decided to set out league tables of all the fire service’s results. I.e. how fast they got to the incident? These results would then be compared to other fire stations. The fire station with the lowest mark would be named and shamed in these tables.

In the same year Margaret Thatcher brought out a new scheme to deal with management. This was called Financial Management initiative. This proposed objective’s, which all public sectors had to meet.

An emphasis on efficiency and financial controls continued to be an issue. In 1986 the Audit Commission Report “Value For Money was brought out for the fire service.

In 1987 a scheme was brought out called the Apprentice Fire-fighters Scheme. This was for school levers who, wished to join the fire service, these people were able to get funding from the county council’s youth training scheme. This was brought out due to recruitment difficulties.

By the late 80’s a Computerised Stores System was in every fire station which, was to provide “effective low cost solutions to existing clerical problems”

1992 a management review began the process that would see an end to the historic Divisional Structure and a move to a style of management more befitting a modern Fire Brigade. The Home Office approved the move from three Divisions to a new structure and the establishment changes that this would entail. (


A new set of critiques bean to emerge in economic and political theory, which were picked up by the government during the conservative administration of the 1980’s and 1990’s. (Hughes and Lewis, 2001, p335). These were:

o Economic

o Social

o Political

Managerialism played a main part in the 1980’s, through reform and reconstruction. It made its change from public to private. This was called the ‘new public management’.

Its focus was on waste, cost control and performance management. The public services focused on the inputs rather than the outputs. (Much more focus on the first 2 e’s economy and efficiency rather than effectiveness.)

The idea of the recipient of welfare and other public services being a ‘consumer’ or ‘customer’ rather than a client or citizen, was a central reference point in the reform of welfare services from the mid 1980’s onwards. (Hughes and Lewis, 2001, p342). This was used to break up the old welfare state monopolies, which brought the introduction of competition as a means of increasing customer choice and improving service quality (also known as best value.) Due to this more emphasis was placed on business management techniques.

The process of decentralization and the introduction of market mechanisms produced an increasingly fragmented array of welfare services. This had the effect of diffusing decision, making responsibility for defining and meeting needs. (Hughes and Lewis, 2001, p348).

“The public manager’s job is not only, or simply, to make policy choices and implement them. It is also to participate in a system of democratic governance in which public values are continuously rearticulated and recreated. (Hughes and LewIs, 2001, p365).

This involves customer care and getting the community involved by letting them have a say on what they think that service should be doing. (IIP).


On the 1st April 1986 the Merseyside Fire and Civil Defence Authority was created. This was followed by the removal of the Merseyside County Council (which was responsible for the provision of the fire brigade.

This authority included 18 elected councillors, these where decided by:

o 6 from Liverpool

o 4 from Sefton

o 4 from the Wirral

o 2 from Knowsley

o 2 from St.Helens

These were divided in to 4 divisions. These were:

o North

o South

o East

o West

Best Value

Although best value has been round for many years, the audit commission has brought this to the attention of the public. The reasons for this are:

1. Increasing pressure to ensure that public services offer ‘value for money’ through public spending

2. The lack of public trust within professionals

3. the rise of managerialism

Inspectors are seen to bring pressure on public service providers. Due to this the public want to see performance data. (League tables.)

The arrival of ‘best value’ promotes this regime. For the first time the public can see the results from the inspectors, of all local authority services. By doing these inspections, the government can then analyse what needs to be put right, so they set national targets to improve public spending.

All fire stations must follow the government’s format, which consists of the 4 c’s:

o Challenge

o Compare

o Compete

o Consult

These types of analysis are both internal and external, and the audit commission examines the outcomes.

Internal Audit

The Merseyside fire brigade followed the ‘best value report’ by:

o Implementing an 18 month improvement plan

o Market test the improved Audit Service in April 2003

The fire service has fully applied the above.

Fire Cover Reviews

The government has recently published a new method for ‘Integrated Risk Management Planning’. That will have a significant impact on the way that fire station is reviewed both now and in the future. (

Strategic Planning

The objectives of a modern Fire Service can be summarised as:

* to reduce loss of life, loss and injury and property damage from fires and other emergencies;

* to reduce the number of fires breaking out;

* to minimise the impact on the environment of fires and other emergencies, and the techniques used to fight them;

* to secure safe systems of work at all times;

* to improve community safety by providing assistance at non-fire emergencies;

* to demonstrate that the Service delivers best value, providing high quality services while demonstrating value for money; and

* to develop partnerships with a range of agencies in the public, private and voluntary sectors to support the achievement of these objectives.


Community Relations

Each fire station works along side the community promoting fire safety to those who want to learn more and to those who don’t telephone calls are made as well as letters through doors. Cheshire fire service promote these things:

o Committed to promoting a culture of equality and risk reduction

o Promoting excellent and sustainable relation with the media.

o Actively communicate internally and externally, the work of the service.

o Ensure the highest level of service to our customers whilst encouraging comment

o Capitalise on partnerships to enhance our service delivery and that of others.


The Fire Service is currently under no obligation to carry out community fire safety. Statutory fire safety is governed by the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and Workplace (Fire) Regulations 1997. In addition, fire safety advice can be given under Section 1 of the Fire Services Act 1947. We have been told that this effectively means that Fire Service gives advice to major commercial interests for free and that there should be the ability to charge. The statutory fire safety regime and the statutory power for community fire safety are due to change under the Regulatory Reform Order due in 2004. (

Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service has set itself an ambitious programme to reduce the number of house fires, injuries and deaths within our Community by carrying out Free ‘Home Fire Risk Assessments’ and installing Free smoke alarms in every home on Merseyside. Until now we have only been able to provide Community Fire Safety services in English (and occasionally in British Sign Language). Our new Community Bilingual Team offer all our services to you in Arabic, Chinese and Somali, which can delivered by a woman on request. (

Another community relation deals with Home Fire Risk Assessments. These are friendly visits, which take place in your home, whenever you like. When the fire person comes round it gives the chance to ask questions which relates to the fire service and how you could prevent fire in your home. At this time the fire person can also look round your home to see if there are any fire hazards that may be hiding in your house. If you don’t already have a fire alarm you could have one installed free of charge.

Another operation that Merseyside fire deals with I called Fire Awareness Child Education Programme. This initiative educates children about the risks of fire. It’s aimed at those children who play with fire, the age group is normally between 4 and 12. A fire person comes out to your home and gets everyone involved i.e. both the child and it’s parents. This service is completely confidential.