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'This is not good enough' - call for rapid action after inspector says fire service needs to improve

PUBLISHED: 14:55 20 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 June 2019

Firefighters tackle a blaze at a house in Snettisham. Picture: Chris Bishop

Firefighters tackle a blaze at a house in Snettisham. Picture: Chris Bishop

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Norfolk's police and crime commissioner has stopped short of stating he will revive his bid to take over the county's fire and rescue service after a critical inspection, but said he will be looking for rapid improvements.

Norfolk Police and Crime Commisssioner Lorne Green. Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorfolk Police and Crime Commisssioner Lorne Green. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The fire service was rated as requiring improvement in its first ever inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.

While satisfied with some aspects of the service and rating it good for responding to fires, the watchdog said there were "several areas" where the service needs to improve.

That included its understanding of risks, action to prevent fires and protecting the public through fire regulation. Concerns were also raised over a backlog of home fire checks and complaints about bullying within the service.

Chief fire officer Stuart Ruff has said action to improve had already started and he was committed to learn from recommendations.

And Conservative police and crime commissioner Lorne Green said he would be monitoring closely. Last year, he spent £100,000 to explore whether he should take over the fire service, but announced he would be pausing the process in November last year.

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Mr Green, who was recently given a place on the council's cabinet when it acts as the fire authority, said: "I am concerned and I will be looking for a assurances from the chief fire officer that the issues will be addressed in a timely fashion.

"We are talking about the safety and wellbeing of our community here and this is not good enough."
Highlighting how a similar inspection of Norfolk Constabulary had seen the force's efficiency rated as outstanding, he said: "When I decided not to continue with the business case over the management of the fire service, I said it had moved from green to amber and it's flickering back to green.

Stuart Ruff, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer. Picture: Norfolk County Council.Stuart Ruff, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer. Picture: Norfolk County Council.

"But it is on the low boil and I want to see what response the chief fire officer has and what his timetable is."

Ed Maxfield, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall, said: "This report contains some important warnings for the fire service management team that must be heeded.

"But there is a warning for the politicians too. The Conservative administration must make sure the fire service gets the resources it needs to protect people across the county."

Labour group leader Steve Morphew said: "This report is shining a light into some dark corners. It will worry residents especially in rural areas. The apparent lack of prior awareness or issues being flagged up for councillors is of equal concern.

"How did it happen? Why has the service fallen back and what investment is needed to put it right? They are the crucial questions."

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