Precept questions over blue light integration plans

16 Nov 15

Joint governance of police forces and fire services in England will present technical accounting problems, the Home Office has been told.

A government consultation on the so-called ‘blue light’ collaboration was issued by home secretary Theresa May, local government secretary Greg Clark and health secretary Jeremy Hunt in September. It closed on 23 October and responses are being evaluated.

The consultation sets out ways in which police and crime commissioners can take on responsibility for local fire services and outlines two possible governance models.

One of these will see police and fire services remain distinct organisations, with both overseen by PCCs.

Under a second ‘single employer’ model, a single chief officer, reporting to the PCC, will employ all fire and police personnel. This officer would appoint a senior fire officer and a deputy chief constable to lead fire and police operations respectively.

The consultation states that, if a single employer is created, central government and precept funding streams will remain separate.

Speakers and delegates at CIPFA’s annual policing conference on 4 November questioned Home Office official Zonia Cavanagh on how two precepts could sit within a single organisation with a single budget and asked whether PCCs would have the flexibility to move money across.

Cavanagh said precept funds are not ringfenced and will have to be accounted for separately. “It’s very important that there are two precepts, especially for [the single employer model], so people can clearly see what is going into fire and what is going into police,” she said.

Paddy Tipping, PCC for Nottinghamshire, who chaired the conference, said: “Ultimately, you would have one vehicle that does policing and fire, so the notion of having two precepts creates some real technical difficulties for how we account and we need to work it through.” However, he acknowledged that the problem was not unsolvable.

Adam Simmonds, PCC for Northamptonshire, questioned the need for two precepts and suggested a single emergency services or justice precept.

However, Ged Murphy, chief finance officer at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, said precepts have a legal status and cannot be spent on purposes other than those they are raised for.

He also highlighted the government’s “differential” approach to precept capping, which may, for example, favour police over other services. While there was a logic to consolidating precepts into one, “that opens other issues around capping”, Murphy said.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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