Fire services reform: The devil is in the detail

  Posted on 3rd June 2016 by Loralee Hyde in UFBA News

Message from George Verry, Chief Executive Officer

In my update of 9 May to members on the fire services reform, I advised how the Minister announced further Government decisions on the reform of New Zealand’s fire services on 28 April. 

These decisions, together with those the Minister announced at the UFBA Conference last November, set the 'direction of travel' for the newly appointed New Zealand Fire Service Commission Board (the NZFSC Board).

Some of the decisions relate to funding changes, some to the wider mandate and some to the way volunteers will be engaged and organised in the new unified national organisation, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).

They are high level decisions that set out general principles and approaches—it is for the NZFSC Board to fill in the details.

As always, the devil is in the detail.

Slow progress so far

The NZFSC Board has met only twice so far and has just started to put its collective mind to the process it will follow to formulate a coherent framework for volunteers in the new organisation.

Progress is agonisingly slow—the Transition Committee of the NZFSC Board met for the first time only in mid-May. Anders Crofoot (a member of the Castlepoint Volunteer Rural Fire Force) has been appointed as an independent member of the Committee. Up to two more independent members are yet to be appointed.

A Transition Programme Director (currently Fraser Fyfe is acting in this position) will be appointed to lead the programme team. A number of groups will report to that position including a transition design team and various stakeholder forums.

The slow appointment process for members of the programme team is frustrating—urgent progress needs to be made on the details to enable the UFBA to advocate effectively for our members.

New legislation and regulation

The new legislation to give effect to the reforms will be based around earlier advice from the Minister and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) on Cabinet decisions.

In accord with all modern legislation, it will be enabling—not prescriptive as is the current Fire Service Act. The new legislation is being drafted. But the considerable regulation underpinning the new organisation is only now being considered.

The DIA fact sheet discussed below which gives a summary on supporting the fire services’ workforce during the transition to FENZ, provides answers to some of the 'gossip' that has developed in the information vacuum.

Latest fact sheet from DIA: Background - Supporting the fire services’ workforce

DIA is providing updates on the fire services reform at www.dia.govt.nz/Fire-Services-Transition

The fact sheet Background –Supporting the fire services' workforce was recently published.

Our comments on the information provided in this fact sheet follow.

A new organisation with new mandate and new name

During the last few years, the work of NZFS volunteers has changed from a strong focus on fighting fires to a much wider range of emergency services such as attending motor vehicle accidents and medical emergencies.

The new legislation will provide a missing mandate to validate the attendance of FENZ personnel, particularly volunteers, at those emergency incidents which are not fires.

New and changed roles in new organisation/ Local leadership of volunteers will continue be important

As previously recorded, volunteer fire brigades and rural fire forces are based on and focussed on their roles in their local communities. It is pleasing to note that local leadership functions will be retained along with their deputies.

Local leadership is to continue and the importance of local identity in brigades underlined.

There has been concern about continuation of the titles of brigade leaders. Is it perhaps time to reflect the wider roles of these community leaders in the titles?

More support for volunteers

More support for volunteers is welcomed. We are pleased to see the development of a principled approach to which we look expect to contribute.

Greater recognition of volunteers’ employers is important with the changing scene in demographics and other factors affecting workforces in our smaller towns.

And the retention of gratuities is welcomed—but this would be further enhanced with a credible review process.

Volunteers to be in direct relationship with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ)

There is a proposal for direct engagement of volunteer brigades with FENZ. However, the details of this is still in the melting pot.

UFBA has strongly signalled our interest in ensuring 'direct engagement' does not impinge on the primary relationships volunteer brigades have with their communities and the importance of maintaining a level of local independence while benefiting from the overall resources available from NZFS.

As part of the review process, UFBA has advocated strongly to the need of preserving community relationships and has contributed to the push for modern volunteer principles and conventions.

It is pleasing to see the proposal for specific Government overview of this area.

Advocacy and support organisations like UFBA can continue their work

Currently UFBA receives NZFSC monetary support to provide advocacy services for all member fire forces and brigades (paid and volunteer).

So there is no change to this arrangement which is currently supported by a Governance and Management Agreement between UFBA and NZFSC.

Stakeholders will be involved in discussions around the new organisation and its workforce

We note we and other stakeholders will be actually involved in transition design. We are already active in developing our input into this process.

New organisation will have clear processes for managing disputes

UFBA welcomes the proposals for new processes for disputes resolution. But we will be keen to ensure these reflect the particular interests, needs and nature of our volunteer brigades and their personnel.

Supporting members: Our recent actions

1. The Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the UFBA along with the Chief Executive of NZFS met with Paul Swain, the Chair of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission, shortly after his appointment.

2. The NZFSC Board and senior leaders held a two-day planning session at the National Training Centre in Rotorua in mid-May. The UFBA prepared a comprehensive paper for the session detailing how we speak for all 400 volunteer fire brigades and many rural fire forces, their members and the communities they serve. We recommended that:

3. The Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the UFBA met with the NZFSC Board on 17 May and reinforced the key points of our paper prepared for the NZFSC Board’s planning session and our recommendations.

4. We also presented the UFBA 2016-2017 Business Plan to the NZFSC Board—this seeks for additional resources to advocate for our members’ interests during the fire services reform and to support volunteer members e.g. in conflict and dispute resolution. We are waiting for the NZFSC Board’s response.

5. Our Patron, Dame Margaret Bazley, met with the UFBA Board on 23 May, giving wise counsel on our future advocacy and actions during the transition to the new unified organisation

6. A number of rural fire forces belong to FRFANZ (Forest and Rural Fire Association). We are working in partnership with FRFANZ on common interests.

Again, the devil is in the detail

In summary, I reiterate the devil is in the detail.

I assure you that UFBA is strongly supporting our members during the transition to a new unified organisation by proactively providing input into the fire services reform processes.

George Verry
3 June 2016

Keep up-to-date with the actions the UFBA is taking to support members during the fire services reform here

Downloads

DIA Fact Sheet Background Supporting Fire Services Workforce May 2016
Download File (pdf, 309KB, last modified February 26 2017)

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