PCCs to take on responsibility for fire & rescue services

27 Jan 16

Ministers have announced that police and crime commissioners will be able to take over responsibility for local fire and rescue services as part of a drive to integrate blue light emergency services.

Following a consultation, policing and fire minister Mike Penning said the government would go ahead with plans to allow PCCs to make the case to take over functions and duties of fire and rescue authorities.

Where commissioners can set out a business case to the Home Office, this would allow commissioners to create a single employer for police and fire personnel. In London, the capital’s Fire and Emergency Planning Authority will be abolished and the Mayor of London given direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service.

In addition, Penning announced that the government would place a new duty on emergency service providers, also including NHS ambulance services, to work together to provide a more efficient and effective service to the public.

Proposals include allowing PCCs in areas where there is not full integration to be represented on their local fire and rescue authority with voting rights.

Penning said that the changes, which follow a switch for responsibility for fire services from the Department for Communities and Local Government, were about smarter working.

“As a former firefighter and now minister for policing and fire, I know from first-hand experience how well the police and fire and rescue service can work together,” he said.

“We believe that better joint working can strengthen the emergency services, deliver significant savings and produce benefits for the public. It simply doesn’t make sense for emergency services to have different premises, different back offices and different IT systems when their work is so closely related and they often share the same boundaries.”

Penning added that it would require strong leadership to drive greater efficiencies and improved outcomes, so directly elected PPCs could push forward reforms that could deliver value for money.

“We will enable them to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made.”

Trade union Unison warned that the plans would do nothing to improve services to the public if they led to the merger of control rooms that take 999 calls for the three emergency services in England.

General secretary Dave Prentis said that dedicated staff who work across emergency services did not need another reorganisation of provision.

“Ministers can say that it’s all about closer working, but these plans are simply about giving the government cover for further damaging cuts to frontline services.”

He said that a government-backed emergency services collaboration working party had been unable to provide hard evidence that any change would actually save money or improve services

“The needs, skills and knowledge of the three emergency services are very different and any moves to merge control rooms, or other functions, will be opposed, because of the pressure it will put on already overstretched emergency workers.

“Before embarking on yet another ill-thought out scheme, ministers' time would be better spent working out how to ensure that the ambulance service is better integrated with A&E departments, NHS 111 and other parts of the health service, and undertaking a proper review of police collaboration so far.”

Responding to the changes, the Local Government Association said there was "no pressing need” to change the governance of fire and rescue authorities.

LGA fire services management committee chair Jeremy Hilton said that local councillors who sit on English fire and rescue authorities do a tremendous job.

"The government should not impose change for change's sake,” he stated. “However, we do support improved collaboration between the three emergency services. The LGA would only support changes to the governance of fire and rescue authorities if there is an agreement between the Police and Crime Commissioner and the local fire and rescue authority, underwritten by a watertight business plan that also has the support of the local community."

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