Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government and Government Business
In Plenary on 2 July, William Graham AM asked me to provide a Written Statement updating the Assembly on the work being undertaken to combat deliberate fire setting and tackling incidents of attacks on our emergency service personnel, in particular, firefighters.
Under section 6 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, the Fire and Rescue Services have a statutory responsibility to make provision for the purpose of promoting fire safety. A priority for the Fire and Rescue Services in Wales is to combine prevention, education and intervention to reduce the risk of fires.
There have been improvements in outcomes for the citizens of Wales since the Fire and Rescue Services were devolved in 2004-05. I will present some detailed information on these improvements in my Oral Statement scheduled for 22 October.
Over the last 10 years £50 million has been given to the three Welsh Fire and Rescue Services to support fire prevention activity. In 2013-14, the Welsh Government continues to work with the Fire and Rescue Services and has allocated £3 million funding to support fire safety activities. These activities include Homes Fire Safety Checks, supporting vulnerable people in their own home and activities around arson reduction, including preventative work with children and young people.
A number of activities have been developed to help reduce the problem of arson. For example, the Phoenix Project, aimed at young people aged 11 to 25, addresses issues ranging from low self esteem and lack of confidence to anti social behaviour and fire related problems, such as deliberate fire setting and hoax calls. The feedback from Phoenix projects has been extremely positive with evidence of a reduction in reoffending. I visited the South Wales project and was impressed at the level of engagement by the young people.
People working for the Fire and Rescue Services play a crucial role in reducing risk in our communities and responding to emergencies, saving lives or preventing escalation sometimes before specialist support has arrived. Protection for firefighters and other emergency workers is provided under the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006. The maximum penalty for an offence under this Act is a level 5 fine, currently up to £5,000.
The number and nature of attacks on Fire and Rescue Services staff are monitored. In 2011 there were over 55 reported attacks on firefighters. This reduced to 40 in 2012. To date this year, there have been 17 reported attacks. Predominantly these incidents centred on verbal attacks (12), with other attacks involving physical contact (1), thrown missiles (3) and aggression towards firefighters (1).
A number of initiatives have been developed by the Fire and Rescue Services to combat the problem of attacks on firefighters. These include working with people in areas where these incidents occur, providing additional equipment, designing protective measures and the trialling of CCTV surveillance on some fire appliances.
I would like to take this opportunity to update Members on the appointment of the new Welsh Government’s Fire and Rescue Adviser and Inspector for Wales, Lee Howell.
Lee took up his post on 2 August. He brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and skills to the role. I believe the appointment of a serving Chief Fire Officer will bring a fresh perspective to the Adviser role, providing the opportunity to share and learn from his and others experience. The role includes providing advice on delivery of the Fire and Rescue National Framework 2012 onwards, operational matters, guidance and technical policy issues, as well as performance and diversity.