Conservative address: wrecking ball to regionalisation: tearing apart the government's work on regionalisation was just one of Conservative MP Robert Syms' election-winning missions, he proclaimed, as he rallied against Labour's 'modernisation' agenda. He also ploughed into regional controls and national resilience during his address to LGA delegates at this month's conference.(LGA Fire Conference)

MR SYMS WAS ADAMANT THAT what is happening today in the Fire and Rescue Service can be traced back to "decisions made or perceptions formed in the ODPM and 10 Downing Street during the dark days of the industrial dispute".

Out of that, he maintained, was born the concept of 'modernisation': "Hardly a new word for the Labour Party which had already 'modernised' everything from nurses pay to MPs' working hours. But a novel concept for the Fire Service nonetheless."

His appraisal proved an interesting rendering of recent history. "Looking back, it is clear that a number of different strands of thinking drove the modernisation agenda in central government an instinctive desire to smash what the ODPM saw as a 'cosy' arrangement between an over dominant union and a cowed management; a genuine desire to seek economies in service delivery that could be used to finance a pay settlement of sufficient generosity to settle the dispute; a real concern to do better in reducing accidental fire deaths; a desire to respond to the new potential threats in the wake of 9/11 and on top of all that, a misguided desire to underpin what the ODPM then saw as the coming era of regional government."

"Schizophrenia" in the ODPM

As mentioned in F/RE-by his predecessor Philip Hammond MP, originally the opposition welcomed, in principal, the original concept of modernisation. "We accepted, as I believe did almost everybody, the need to change the primary focus of the Fire and Rescue Service from reaction to prevention; from putting out fires to planning out fire deaths. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.