Tuesday, 23 April 2013

England & Wales Wildfire Forum

Photo: Andy Law

Although the were some nasty incidents in South Wales and on Dartmoor, the worst of the wildfires have passed by England and Wales, this year.  However, as I have reported on extensively, I believe that the wildfires in Scotland, this year, have highlighted the need for an effective Wildfire Forum.  I see a Forum as providing an umbrella organisation to bring together the Fire Service, the landowners and land managers, the practitioners and fire researchers to provide some cohesion, which otherwise appears to be sadly lacking.

Against this background, I attended the meeting of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum, earlier this month.  There was some useful discussion around wildfire issues, but I was particularly interested in the proposals to review the governance of the Forum.  This is hardly riveting stuff, but unless we get it right everything else suffers.

The current chairman of the Forum is the Chief Fire Officer of Northumberland FRS and although the CFO has changed, Northumberland FRS has provided the chairman for the last seven years.  The chairman has indicated that he feels it is time for the chair to be rotated.  As Vice-Chairman, he has asked whether I would be interested in taking on this role but I have asked that before this is put to members of the Forum, we carry out a review of the EWWF. There are three issues that need to be addressed.

For the Forum to be effective, I believe it is essential that we have good access to government, and the point of contact is the Dept for Communities & Local Government (DCLG).  Without this contact, there is a danger that the EWWF will be unable to have any influence on policy.  We need to establish how this is to be achieved.

Another issue to be explored is the future of the funding for the secretariat function.  Currently, this is provided by Northumberland FRS, and if the FRS is unable to guarantee that funding ail continue to be available, Forum members must either fund the Forum themselves, or find an alternative source of funds.  Either way, without resources the long-term future of the Forum is in doubt.  Without an effective secretariat to deliver and chase action, there is a danger that nothing happens between meetings.

A final issue is the continuation of the link to the Wildfire Group that is run by the Chief Fire Officers' Association.  This is much more an internal FRS group, but there are concerns that there is duplication and a danger of giving a mixed message to government.

I accept that this is remarkably boring stuff but exactly the same debate needs to take place in Scotland as we move to revitalise the Scottish Wildfire Forum.

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