In response to the Report of the Fire Review Panel, the UFBA is reviewing its strategic focus, role, and operational model with respect to delivering on the Panel’s recommendations, and has commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to make an independent assessment of the UFBA’s organizational and funding model.
With a predominantly volunteer workforce, the Fire Service faces significant challenges with sustainability going forward. The Fire Review Panel recognized the huge contribution made by volunteers and highlighted a number of recommendations to create a more volunteer-friendly fire service.
The UFBA was specifically identified as a key player in developing and steering the implementation of some of these recommendations, including: protecting employers of volunteers from financial disadvantage, updating volunteer benefit schemes and exploring an arbitration role for dispute resolution between volunteers and the NZFS.
“The first step is to revalidate the value of volunteers to the Fire Service,” says George Verry, UFBA Chief Executive Officer.
To do this, the UFBA has asked PwC to perform an updated assessment of a recent report that was done for the New Zealand Fire Service in 2009, which described the value of the contribution from volunteer fire brigades.
PwC is also tasked with reviewing the UFBA’s governance and organisational structure to ensure it is fit for purpose, review the current funding model in light of changes and extensions to the nature of the work of fire brigades, assessing changing demographic patterns, and identifying impacts of the Fire Service Panel Report to the UFBA.
“We don’t want the important findings of the Fire Review Panel to be lost,” says Verry. “One of the main reasons we’re undertaking this work with PwC is to incorporate the report findings into the decision-making process and strategic planning for the UFBA, and it will also obviously reinforce our advocacy on behalf of members.
“The work of fire brigades has changed significantly with brigades now being called upon to attend road crashes and other rescue and emergency incidents, including medical responses, and we need to make sure that is reflected in the contracting arrangements with the New Zealand Fire Service. We want PwC to help us determine what an appropriate Service Level Agreement could be that would meet the operational funding needs of the UFBA and allow for flexibility in terms of our grant income.”
Demographic and societal influences, as well as attitudes toward volunteering continue to shift, and to continue to be relevant and attract the right volunteers, Verry believes it is important to invest in in-depth research in these areas.
“There is a definite Baby Boomer bulge in our membership,” he says. “And there are a lot of other factors that are influencing recruitment and retention in our brigades. We’re dealing with commuter and permanent movements between rural small town residents and larger towns and cities.”
“We are also seeing changes in the nature and demands of employment, changing attitudes of various age groups and sexes toward volunteering, and couples having children at a later age. Recent census statistics also show that one in four New Zealand residents were born outside of New Zealand.”
“We need to know what the implications of all of these things are so that we can plan for the future.”
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