Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service
146 Bolton Road
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We have now officially closed the consultation period of our new corporate plan / operational strategy. Though if people still want to make comment we will not completely ignore them.
This has been the largest consultation exercise we have ever done and has involved a huge effort - and we have had a lot of feedback.
Although its probably a sign of the times that, unlike in the past, when changes to 'fire' would have evoked a huge emotional response from the public, we have really not seen that.
Rather people have been able to take a much more analytical perspective and ask searching and important questions to test the validity of our thinking and to assure themselves we are not just responding to financial situation in any knee-jerk way.
Of course there have been concerns expressed - not least by staff and their representatives - but here too, among the concerns, we have seen realism and constructive suggestions made.
For example in the Fire Brigade Union's response they are seeking a review of a number of our operational policies - for example, our policy on 'drive to arrive' (driving under two tone horns and blue lights) and our response to fire alarms. And they make good points about how we may well need to adapt them to reflect changed circumstances.
So we will be advising the Authority that we agree and we will undertake these reviews - and we should do so in the spirit of partnership with trade unions so we do see changes in these areas.
We have now called an extraordinary meeting of the full Fire Authority next month so we can do justice to putting the outcomes of consultation in to the public domain - and giving them proper consideration and debate - before any final decisions are made.
As we say in both documents, our options are limited - because we have significant constraints financially and the council tax freeze grant (a one year only grant to keep council tax down) has actually worsened the situation in the medium term (in future we will somehow have to make up the shortfall when the grant is removed).
So we were also open to alternative ideas arising from consultation about what else we might do to balance our approach and the finances.
I make these points really to try to manage expectations. The elected members will want to give proper consideration to feedback from everyone - the public, key stakeholders and staff - and they are anxious to ensure they do get all the feedback to consider.
But at the end of all of that there remains a decision to be made, a requirement to balance the budget and provide the best service possible.
And its true to say that while we have had some great feedback and some constructive suggestions for changing our approach (as illustrated above) there has been a recognition that we have put enormous effort and deep thinking in to the future.