Viewpoint I

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the FPA, gives his views on sector progress and what still needs to change

NEVITABLY AND quite correctly, the 2018 fire agenda has been dominated by the fallout from Grenfell, with Dame Judith Hackitt completing her work; the public inquiry beginning its public hearings; and most recently, the review of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB) finally being announced. Much to the frustration of many in the sector, at the time of writing, we have yet to learn of the government’s implementation plans for Hackitt, despite her completing her report in May: Brexit allowing, we should have an announcement before the Christmas recess. Notwithstanding the lack of an ‘official response’, we have been encouraged by the work rate and some of the emerging outcomes of the Industry Response Group’s (IRG’s) competence stream, and its 12 working groups under the chairmanship of Graham Watts. The construction industry appears to have accepted the comments about the lack of competency, and risen to the challenge set by Dame Judith. Again I have heard criticism from some in fire that the IRG is dominated by the construction industry (Build UK, Construction Products Association and Construction Industry Council [CIC]) and, ‘what do they know about fire?’ To me, it is a recognition by the construction sector that there was a problem and it needed to be addressed. In my dealings with the Competence Group, I have found them inclusive and willing to engage. It is interesting to note that, at a recent Fire Sector Federation (FSF) meeting, it was clear how deep and wide the members were involved, and it was reported that there was good fire representation on all but one of the working groups. From my perspective, negative comments and

whinging from certain elements of the fire industry is nothing new. Many years ago, I remember an official with responsibility for Building Regulations explaining to me that one of the reasons fire regulations rarely experienced dramatic change was that it was so easy to find a contrary view, whether it be on the need to mandate sprinklers in schools or to insist on the use of multi sensor detectors for high risk occupancies (both complete no brainers in many eyes). The FSF was formed (in part) to provide an industry

view; whatever the government decides to do about the recommendations in Hackitt or the pace of

change, it is quite clear that there will be considerable change, and the fire sector has the opportunity to be part of that change or simply spectators. Hackitt recommended that the sector should take

ownership and control of guidance; absolutely correct in my view, but it won’t happen overnight. It could be argued that government’s experience of our market is of being scolded and told that it is doing everything wrong – and I hold my own hand up there – or witnessing us fighting like ‘cats in a sack’. As a result, it may be that the government has

turned to the fire service as its trusted advisor, and in honesty it is easy to see how a case could be made for the National Fire Chiefs Council to have formed a similar impression too! We have got some confidence building to do. Some of the guidance produced by industry in the UK is undoubtedly world class. We need to convince government we have earned our spurs. It is widely anticipated, also before Christmas, that

ministers will announce the evidence gathering for the long awaited review of ADB, in which incidentally members of the fire sector are heavily represented, despite what some may say – I saw up to at least seven members of the FSF on the ADB Working Group in a rough count recently. Individual trade associations will push member interests of course, but in this review it looks as though well argued, evidence based proposals will be pushing at an open door. We have not been good at that in the past, but

now we have a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to influence change, let’s not look like a group of disorganised whingers who can’t agree on anything. The actions of the IRG and particularly the CIC should have taught us the advantages of putting on a united front and working together for a common cause. Let’s not just moan at the time the government

has taken to respond to Hackitt; let us simply be reassured that they have taken their time to properly consider something so important. Let’s embrace and support what they are trying to achieve and work together as the cohesive effective group of professionals I know that we all can be

Jonathan O’Neill is managing director of the Fire Protection Association. For more information, view page 5 DECEMBER 2018/JANUARY 2019 1

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