The inspection is expected to take at least three months and will look at the governance of the authority including its duties of accountability and assurance under the Fire and Rescue National Framework.
It was ordered on 2 February by the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Brandon Lewis, in response to serious, wide-ranging allegations over the authority’s governance in relation to spending, contracts, complaints, discipline and culture. It follows the authority’s repeated refusal to commission its own independent investigation into the claims.
In June 2016, the Chairman of Avon Fire and Rescue Authority approached the Home Office requesting assistance with launching an inquiry into concerns raised by members of the authority. That request was subsequently withdrawn by the Chairman.
In August 2016 and again last October, the Home Office asked the authority to commission a full investigation, independent of the authority, into all the allegations; this was declined by the chair and vice chairs of the authority.
Areas that will be reviewed by the independent consultant will include the authority’s decisions in relation to employees’ salaries and expenses; hospitality; as well as processes and practices for entering into contracts.
Brandon Lewis, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, said: “It is disappointing that Avon Fire and Rescue Authority chose to not commission a full independent investigation, to reassure the communities it serves that these allegations have been taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
“The extent, seriousness and persistence of the allegations cannot be ignored, and it will now be for the lead inspector, Dr Craig Baker, and his team to determine whether or not they are true.”
Baker has advised public sector organisations for over 30 years in the UK and overseas and, in the private sector, has worked with the Boston Consulting Group and Ernst and Young. He previously worked at the Audit Commission and worked on the production of its 2005 report, In the line of fire, which considered value for money in the fire service.
A final report will be delivered to the Home Secretary setting out the inspector’s findings and any recommendations.