Scottish Fire and Rescue Service: governance and accountability framework 2024

Broad framework within which Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will operate and defines key roles and responsibilities which underpin the relationship between the SFRS and the Scottish Government.

Governance and accountability

Legal origins of powers and duties

11. The SFRS is established under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 ("the 2012 Act") as a body corporate. The constitution of the SFRS is set out in schedule 1A to the 2005 Act, inserted by section 101 of the 2012 Act. The 2012 Act amends and transfers the fire and rescue and other functions set out in the 2005 Act to the SFRS, but also augments them with a range of powers and duties commensurate with its public body status. All references to "SFRS functions" within this document include all statutory powers and duties placed on the SFRS under the 2005 Act (as amended by the 2012 Act) and any other enactment. The SFRS does not carry out its functions on behalf of the Crown.

Ministerial responsibilities

12. The Scottish Ministers are ultimately accountable to the Scottish Parliament for the activities of the SFRS and its use of resources. They are not however responsible for day-to-day operational matters. Their responsibilities include:

  • setting out priorities and objectives for the SFRS in the Fire and Rescue Framework document prepared and brought into effect under section 40 of the 2005 Act (as amended by the 2012 Act).
  • approving the SFRS’s Strategic Plan under section 41A of the 2005 Act (inserted by the 2012 Act).
  • agreeing the SFRS’s strategic aims and objectives and key targets as part of the corporate planning process.
  • agreeing the budget and the associated grant in aid requirement to be paid to the SFRS and securing the necessary Parliamentary approval.
  • carrying out responsibilities specified in the 2005 Act (as amended by the 2012 Act), such as appointments to the SFRS’s board, approving the terms and conditions of board members, and approving the appointment of the Chief Officer.
  • Setting the wider framework for public sector pay in Scotland and considering the affordability of SFRS pay agreements in relation to overall SFRS budgets and,
  • other matters such as approving the SFRS’s Chief Officer and staff pay remit in line with SG Pay Policy and laying the accounts (together with the annual report) before the Parliament.

SFRS Board Responsibilities

13. The SFRS board, including the chair, normally consists of non-executives appointed by the Scottish Ministers in line with the Code of Practice for Ministerial Public Appointments to Public Bodies in Scotland. The role of the board is to provide leadership, direction, support and guidance to ensure the SFRS delivers and is committed to delivering its functions effectively and efficiently and in accordance with the aims, policies and priorities of the Scottish Ministers. Board members are personally and corporately accountable for the boards’ actions and decisions. The board scrutinises plans and proposals and holds the Chief Officer and senior management to account. The board is free to establish its own sub-committee structure and delegate responsibilities to such committees as it considers fit. It has corporate responsibility, under the leadership of the chair, for the following:

  • producing Strategic and Annual Plans, prepared under sections 41A and 41B of the 2005 Act (inserted by the 2012 Act), to be submitted to the Scottish Ministers for approval.
  • taking forward the strategic aims and objectives for the SFRS agreed by the Scottish Ministers.
  • determining the steps needed to deal with changes which are likely to impact on the strategic aims and objectives of the SFRS or on the attainability of its operational targets.
  • the duty under section 39A of the 2005 Act (inserted by the 2012 Act), promoting the efficient, economic and effective use of staff and other resources by the SFRS consistent with the principles of Best Value, including, where possible, participation in shared services arrangements.
  • ensuring that effective arrangements are in place to provide assurance on risk management (including in respect of personnel, physical and cyber risks/threats/hazards), governance and internal control, setting up an audit committee chaired by a non-executive member to provide independent advice and assurance on the effectiveness of the internal control and risk management systems.
  • (in reaching decisions) taking into account relevant guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers.
  • For support staff, ensuring that an effective pay and conditions negotiating framework is in place which allows negotiations to complement the broad principles of the Scottish Governments’ Public Sector Pay Policy and providing the Scottish Government with the required documentation in support of those negotiations.
  • Attend and participate in meetings for the negotiation of operational staff pay, terms and conditions.
  • approving the annual accounts and ensuring Scottish Ministers are provided with the annual report and accounts to be laid before the Scottish Parliament. The Chief Officer as the Accountable Officer of the public body is responsible for signing the accounts and ultimately responsible to the Scottish Parliament for their actions.
  • ensuring that the board receives, and reviews regular financial information concerning the management and performance of the SFRS and is informed in a timely manner about any concerns regarding the activities of the SFRS.
  • appointing, with the approval of the Scottish Ministers the SFRS Chief Officer, following appropriate approval of the Chief Officer’s remuneration package in line with SG Pay Policy for Senior Appointments. New contracts for Chief Officers should include a notice period of no more than 3 months. Where a business case can be made, the notice period may be set at a maximum of 6 months. In consultation with the SG, appropriate performance objectives should be set which give due weight to the proper management and use of resources within the stewardship of the SFRS and the delivery of outcomes.
  • demonstrating high standards of corporate governance at all times, including openness and transparency in its decision making.
  • Further guidance on how the board should discharge its duties is provided in appointment letters and in On Board – A Guide for Members of Statutory Boards.

The Chair’s Responsibilities

14. The chair is accountable to the Scottish Ministers and, in common with any individual with responsibility for devolved functions, may also be held to account by the Scottish Parliament. Communications between the SFRS board and the Scottish Ministers should normally be through the chair. They are responsible for ensuring that the SFRS’s policies and actions support the Scottish Ministers’ wider strategic policies and that its affairs are conducted with probity.

In leading the board, the chair must ensure that:

  • the work of the board is subject to regular self-assessment and that the board is working effectively.
  • the board, in accordance with recognised good practice in corporate governance, is diverse both in terms of relevant skills, experience and knowledge appropriate to directing the SFRS business, and in terms of protected characteristics under the Equality Act and the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act and Guidance, where these apply.
  • the board members are fully briefed on terms of appointment, duties, rights and responsibilities.
  • they together with the other board members, receives appropriate induction training, including on financial management and reporting requirements, severance policy and, as appropriate, on any differences that may exist between private and public sector practice.
  • succession planning takes place to ensure that the board is diverse and effective, and the Scottish Ministers are advised of the SFRS needs when board vacancies arise.
  • there is a code of conduct for board members in place, approved by the Scottish Ministers.

15. The chair assesses the performance of individual board members on a continuous basis and undertakes a formal appraisal at least annually. The chair, in consultation with the board as a whole, is also responsible for undertaking an annual appraisal of the performance of the Chief Officer.

Individual Board Members’ Responsibilities

16. Individual board members should act in accordance with the responsibilities of the board as a whole and comply at all times with the code of conduct adopted by the SFRS and with the rules relating to the use of public funds and to conflicts of interest. (In this context “public funds” means not only any funds provided to the SFRS by the Scottish Ministers but also any other funds falling within the stewardship of the SFRS, including trading and investment income, gifts, bequests and donations.) General guidance on board members’ responsibilities is summarised in their appointment letters and is also provided in On Board.

SFRS Chief Officer responsibilities

17. The Chief Officer of the SFRS is employed and appointed by the board with the approval of the Scottish Ministers. They are the board’s principal adviser on the discharge of its functions and is accountable to the board. Their role is to provide operational leadership to the SFRS and ensure that the board’s aims and objectives are met and the SFRS’s functions are delivered, and targets met through effective and properly controlled executive action. Their general responsibilities include the performance, management and staffing of the SFRS. General guidance on the role and responsibilities of the Chief Officer is contained in On Board. Specific responsibilities to the board include:

  • advising the board on the discharge of its responsibilities - as set out in this document, in the founding legislation and in any other relevant instructions and guidance issued by or on behalf of the Scottish Ministers - and implementing the decisions of the board.
  • ensuring that financial considerations are taken fully into account by the board at all stages in reaching and executing its decisions, and that appropriate financial appraisal and evaluation techniques, consistent with the Appraisal and Evaluation section of the Scottish Public Finance Manual (SPFM), are followed.
  • ensuring that the SFRS adheres, where appropriate, to the SG’s Programme and project management principles .
  • having robust performance and risk management arrangements - consistent with the Risk Management section of the SPFM - in place that support the achievement of the SFRS’s aims and objectives and that facilitate comprehensive reporting to the board, the SG and the wider public. Risk management arrangements should include full consideration of organisational resilience to physical, personnel and cyber risks/threats/hazards.
  • ensuring that adequate systems of internal control are maintained by the SFRS, including effective measures against fraud and theft consistent with the Fraud section of the SPFM.
  • establishing appropriate documented internal delegated authority arrangements consistent with the Delegated Authority section of the SPFM.
  • advising the board on the performance of the SFRS compared with its aims and objectives.
  • preparing the SFRS’s corporate and business plans, in the light of the strategic aims and objectives agreed by the Scottish Ministers.
  • ensuring effective relationships with SG officials.
  • ensuring that timely forecasts and monitoring information on performance and finance are provided to the SG; that the SG is notified promptly if over or under spends are likely and that corrective action is taken; and that any significant problems whether financial or otherwise, and whether detected by internal audit or by other means, are notified to the SG in a timely fashion.
  • Attend and participate in meetings for negotiation of operational staff pay, terms and conditions.
  • For support staff, ensuring that an effective pay and conditions negotiating framework is in place which allows negotiations to complement the broad principles of the Scottish Governments’ Public Sector Pay Policy and submitted in time and the necessary approvals obtained prior to implementing any annual award.
  • Designating Local Senior Officers (LSOs) for each local authority area in Scotland (after consultation with the relevant local authority), ensuring that LSOs are adequately equipped, supported and empowered to fulfil their statutory duties, and providing operational direction and control to LSOs, in line with Section 41J of the 2005 Act (inserted by the 2012 Act).

SFRS Accountable Officer responsibilities

18. The Principal Accountable Officer for the Scottish Administration (the Permanent Secretary of the SG) will designate the Chief Officer as the Accountable Officer for the SFRS. Accountable Officers are personally answerable to the Scottish Parliament for the exercise of their functions, as set out in the Memorandum to Accountable Officers for Other Public Bodies. These include:

  • ensuring the propriety and regularity of the SFRS’s finances and that there are sound and effective arrangements for internal control and risk management.
  • ensuring that the resources of the public body are used economically, efficiently and effectively, and that arrangements are in place to secure Best Value and deliver Value for Money for the public sector as a whole.
  • ensuring compliance with relevant guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers, in particular the SPFM. FM
  • signing the annual accounts and associated governance statements.
  • a statutory duty to obtain written authority from the board/chair before taking any action which they considered would be inconsistent with the proper performance of the Accountable Officer functions. The Accountable Officer should also notify the relevant Portfolio Accountable Officer.

19. It is incumbent on the chief officer to combine their Accountable Officer responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament with their wider responsibilities to the board. The board / chair should be fully aware of, and have regard to, the Accountable Officer responsibilities placed upon the chief officer, including the statutory duty described above.

Portfolio Accountable Officer responsibilities

20. The Principal Accountable Officer for the Scottish Administration will designate the Director-General for Education and Justice as the Accountable Officer for the SG portfolio budget for the SFRS. The responsibilities of a Portfolio Accountable Officer are set out in detail in the Memorandum to Accountable Officers for Parts of the Scottish Administration. They are personally answerable to the Scottish Parliament for ensuring that:

  • the financial and other management controls applied by the SG are appropriate and sufficient to safeguard public funds and, more generally that those being applied by the SFRS conform to the requirements both of propriety and of good financial management.
  • the key roles and responsibilities which underpin the relationship between the SG and the SFRS are set out in a framework document - and that this document is regularly reviewed.
  • effective relationships are in place at Director and Deputy Director level between the SG and the SFRS in accordance with the strategic engagement principles.
  • there is effective continuous assessment and appraisal of the performance of the chair of the SFRS, in line with the requirements of the Code of Practice for Ministerial Public Appointments in Scotland.

Scottish Government Director and Deputy Director

21. The Director for Safer Communities and Deputy Director for Safer Communities have responsibility for overseeing and ensuring effective relationships between the SG and SFRS which support alignment of the SFRS’s business to the SG’s Purpose and National Outcomes and high performance by the SFRS. They will work closely with the SFRS chief officer and be answerable to the Portfolio Accountable Officer for maintaining and developing positive relationships with SFRS characterised by openness, trust, respect and mutual support. They will be supported by a sponsor unit in discharging these functions. The Director shall be responsible for assessing the performance of the SFRS chair at least annually.

Sponsor unit responsibilities

22. The SG sponsor unit for the SFRS is based in Safer Communities Division. It is the normal point of contact for the SFRS in dealing with the SG. The unit, under the direction of the Director and Deputy Director, is the primary source of advice to the Scottish Ministers on the discharge of their responsibilities in respect of the SFRS and undertakes the responsibilities of the Portfolio Accountable Officer on their behalf.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • discharging sponsorship responsibilities in line with the principles and framework set out in the document ‘Strategic Engagement between the Scottish Government and Scotland’s SFRSs’ and ensuring that sponsorship is suitably flexible, proportionate and responsive to the needs of the Scottish Ministers and the SFRS.
  • ensuring that appointments to the SFRS board are made timeously and, where appropriate, in accordance with the code-practice for Ministerial Appointments in Scotland.
  • working with the SFRS to ensure alignment of its Strategic and Annual Operating Plans to the National Performance Framework
  • supporting regular senior level engagement with the SFRS, which ensures a shared understanding of priorities to inform it strategic and annual planning.
  • promoting the SFRS within the SG and ensuring that it is treated as a key stakeholder in the development of policy.
  • proportionate monitoring of the SFRS’s activities through an adequate and timely flow of appropriate information, agreed with the SFRS, on performance, budgeting, control and risk management.
  • addressing in a timely manner any significant problems arising in the SFRS, alerting the Portfolio Accountable Officer and the responsible Minister(s) where considered appropriate.
  • ensuring that the objectives of the SFRS and the risks to them are properly and appropriately taken into account in the SG’s risk assessment and management systems.
  • informing the SFRS of relevant SG policy in a timely manner.

Internal audit

23. The SFRS shall:

  • establish and maintain arrangements for internal audit in accordance with the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards and the Internal Audit section of the SPFM.
  • set up an audit committee of its board, in accordance with the Audit Committees section of the SPFM, to advise both the board and the chief officer in their capacity as the SFRS Accountable Officer.
  • forward timeously to the SG the audit charter, strategy, periodic audit plans and annual audit assurance report, including the SFRS Head of Internal Audit opinion on risk management, control and governance and other relevant reports as requested.
  • keep records of and prepare and forward timeously to the SG an annual report on fraud and theft suffered by the SFRS and notify the SG at the earliest opportunity of any unusual or major incidents.

24. The SG’s Internal Audit Directorate has a right of access to all documents held by the SFRS internal auditor, including where the service is contracted out. The SG has a right of access to all SFRS records and personnel for any purpose.

External audit

25. The Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) audits, or appoints auditors to audit, the SFRS’s annual accounts and passes them to the Scottish Ministers who shall lay them before the Scottish Parliament, together with the auditor’s report and any report prepared by the AGS. For the purpose of audit, the auditors have a statutory right of access to documents and information held by relevant persons. The SFRS shall instruct its auditors to send copies of all management reports (and correspondence relating to those reports) and responses to the SG.

26. The AGS, or examiners appointed by the AGS, may carry out examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the SFRS has used its resources in discharging its functions. The AGS may also carry out examinations into the arrangements made by the SFRS to secure Best Value. For the purpose of these examinations the examiners have a statutory right of access to documents and information held by relevant persons. In addition, the SFRS shall provide, in contracts and any conditions to grants, for the AGS to exercise such access to documents held by contractors and sub-contractors and grant recipients as may be required for these examinations; and shall use its best endeavours to secure access for the AGS to any other documents required by the AGS which are held by other bodies.

Annual report and accounts

27. The SFRS must publish an annual report of its activities together with its audited accounts after the end of each financial year. The annual report must cover the activities of any corporate, subsidiary or joint ventures under the control of the SFRS. It should comply with the Government Financial Reporting Manual (FReM) and outline the SFRS’s main activities and performance against agreed objectives and targets for the previous financial year.

28. The accounts must be prepared in accordance with relevant statutes and the specific accounts direction (including compliance with the FReM) and other relevant guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers. Any financial objectives or targets set by the Scottish Ministers should be reported on in the accounts and will therefore be within the scope of the audit. Any subsidiary or joint venture owned or controlled by the SFRS shall be consolidated in its accounts in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards as adapted and interpreted for the public sector context.

29. The draft report should be submitted to the SG for comment, and the draft accounts for information, by a deadline agreed by SFRS and SG annually. Whilst the statutory date for laying and publishing accounts audited by the AGS is by 31 December, following the close of the previous financial year, there is an expectation on the part of the Scottish Ministers that accounts will be laid and published as early as possible. The accounts must not be laid before they have been formally sent by the AGS to the Scottish Ministers and must not be published before they have been laid. The SFRS shall be responsible for the publication of the annual report and accounts.

Inspectors of the SFRS

30. Her Majesty’s Fire Service Chief Inspector and Assistant Inspectors, under section 43A of the 2005 Act (inserted by the 2012 Act), will inspect the SFRS and, in doing so, may inquire into certain matters independently, or on the direction of Scottish Ministers. The Chief Inspector is required to provide reports or, where applicable, copy reports of inquiries to the SFRS and, depending on the type of inquire, to the Scottish Ministers. Copies of certain reports, in particular those relating to the state and efficiency of the SFRS, must be laid before the Scottish Parliament (either by the Chief Inspector or the Scottish Ministers).



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