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THE SELLING OF THE FIRE SERVICE COLLEGE:HOT OR COLD PASTY?

BY PETER STANLEY The government seems to have decided that the most palatable option for the Fire Service College is a new private owner. Not for the rst time we seem to have a government that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. Nothing could be more disconcerting than seeing ministers who could not get a tax on hot pasties right or who engineered a fuel crisis that ultimately left a middle-aged lady ghting for her life from petrol induced burns,deciding the fate of one of the core institutions in our industry. For the record here I have always been a supporter,even though for some time our company has been a business competitor, of the College. As a long serving re ofcer I spent over a year of my career there on residential courses, as did many others of my generation. On any level that represents a major investment of time and money from the College and me so I feel have earned an opinion here. So what went so wrong over forty odd years that private industry has to be tempted to buy it and what commercial promises will be made to the eventual proud owner? Well for sure many of the courses were not well designed, were overlong, were not provided at the right stage of an individual ofcers development and tutors were not drawn from the top echelon of UK re service PLC.The College was too set in a fast receding past, only really saw worth in students in its own image and had a pretty awful business model given that it required students to stay for weeks on end in the Cotswolds.Certainly it didnt gain in my opinion from the strategy of latter years that non-uniformed educational experts and senior managers were best. We probably wouldnt have ended up with the Aspire Leadership Model before that change, so I rest my case there. Of course the accommodation and the food were mediocre even by the standards of the time, a hardship softened for most uniform students by the world class reground facilities on offer. All that is what it is and is also well in the past but what was valuable though was the concept, which inspired the government of the time to build it in the rst place(around the time they also created the Open University) and successive governments of different political persuasions to invest in it regularly over a long period of time. The concept of a national re college to train re service leaders for excellence at every level. Of course in this era it seems nobody takes anything seriously which doesnt make money or offer some political advantage to the incumbent government. Worse still for any government owned institutions future if it presents itself as a pain free cut in austere times. I nd it difcult to imagine any board of directors is considering buying what is effectively in 2012 a struggling business with no record of making a prot, and a failed business model, without some guarantees from the major potential UK re service clients that they will support it with long term training contracts. If it were true it would guarantee the future of the College but represent a failure for the principle of competitive open governance of public service contracts. I have to confess as a time served re ofcer and a competitor and at the risk of sounding hollow and insincere, that I am in favour of the same funding model that has enabled the future of the Scottish Fire Service College for a number of years. To my mind what needed to happen was that the College was funded properly by a government that properly understood, or was made to understand by CFOA,the re services essential place in the fabric of the country and its need for a central educational institution and the very best and brightest senior and junior uniformed ofcers drafted in to run it. The ideal outcome from the College should be a standardized, vibrant, relevant, accredited and timely blend of outsourced and residential programmes offered to suit all re and rescue pockets. That may all be cloud cuckoo land to the pragmatists but at least if it is not to be, the College as an institution erstwhile trading under another name, will still be in existence and not the site of a new development of unaffordable Cotswold detached houses at least for the immediate future. And as crazy as it seems with determined leadership from senior service gures could yet be purchased and taken back into the services hands at some future date when times are better and the private ownership may have proved as expensive, unworkable and as untenable as many of the other privatization's which British people have had to accommodate in the name of progress. The above are the personal views of Peter Stanley who is a Senior Tutor at Peter Stanley Training Ltd.