On that point—seeing as I have been asked to answer interventions immediately—I have expanded the terms of reference of the fitness working group to consider those work force management issues, but I shall give further details about that later.
The issue of fitness has been of personal interest to me. It is likely to be of particular concern to women in the fire service and is the most recent issue we have addressed in the changes we have made. Hon. Members will know that we have set up a working group on firefighter fitness to set out what good practice looks like and to explore the future shape of the work force, and we have consulted on putting principles in the national framework on a statutory footing to introduce protections for older workers. The consultation closed on
These principles were designed with the intention of ensuring that no firefighter aged 55 or over was dismissed purely as a result of losing fitness through no fault of their own. If a firefighter loses health, either physical or mental, they will be eligible for ill-health retirement, and under the final regulations these will be better than the union’s alternative scheme design for “active factors”. If they lose fitness, they must be given the opportunity and support to regain it. If they cannot, again through no fault of their own, they will be offered an alternative role or an unreduced pension. DCLG will audit compliance among fire and rescue services.
I come now to the key point raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central. The union has argued that the framework is simply guidance that can be ignored, and it has cited legal advice it has received on that point, but that advice is flawed. The national framework is not simply guidance; it is a statutory instrument, and under section 21 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 fire and rescue authorities must have regard to it in the exercise of their functions.
To ensure that the fitness principles are being implemented effectively by fire and rescue authorities, I have included in my proposals a review after three years. The union claims this is the wrong kind of regulation—