Can the Centre of Excellence heal 'knowledge gaps'? In this special report, David Wright examines the implications of the proposed Centre of Excellence in terms of the Fire and Rescue Service's knowledge base.(Risk Management)

MODERNISATION HAS BEEN GIVEN AS the reason for many of the changes that have been thrust upon the Fire and Rescue Service in recent times. Either from development within the Service itself or through imposition, it has generally accepted that the Fire and Rescue Service must change or be changed.

The latest proposal for managing some of the aspects of the change--the self--termed 'Centre of Excellence'--appears to be vying for the title of being all things to all people all at once. Is this to be as effective as hoped or is it just another initiative placed upon a service already claimed to be wilting under the strain of constant change?

Given the tight spending agreements for the next three years, could it be a tool for improving service delivery or reducing costs of that service delivery by joining up a number of aspects of the Service into a single efficient body? The new proposals try to draw a wide variety of fire and rescue issues and attempt to address them through a single entity.

The rationale behind the proposals are clear--the Fire and Rescue Service can no longer cope with servicing the delivery of all aspects of change. It recognises that the challenges facing the Service are great and include environmental and sociological change, together with the risk of terrorism. It does see the need for the future Service to widen the scope of activities and response but it also recognises that existing institutions--such as the Chief Fire Officers Association and regional management boards--do not have the remit or capacity to help FRAs in the delivery of functions on a national basis. The need to deliver a more efficient service is also a key driver in this search for excellence. Given the loss of many of the previous institutions that fulfilled the role, many areas of work are now left undone. …

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