SAME TEAM? Responsibility for managing the police and fire services could merge this year under Government plans
Home secretary Theresa May announced proposals to hand over control of fire services to elected commissioners rather than local councils which currently run the services.
The move aims to provide more “direct, democratic accountability” and could lead to savings in backroom staff, with one body running both services.
Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kevin Hurley said he welcomes the plans.
He said: “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to pay for loads of staff sat at computers at 46 fire stations and 43 police forces in the country.
“If I oversee both services it will break down barriers and we can do so much more when we share resources like having one control room – the savings would be huge.”
However the Fire Brigade Union has blasted the plans as “stupid and dangerous”.
The union’s general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Associations with the police could damage the trust firefighters have built up in their communities. This trust is essential in order to have access to people’s homes for vital fire prevention work.
“PCCs have not proven particularly effective in governing the police, 40 per cent of them have ended up costing the taxpayer more than the authorities they replaced. Giving them control of fire services would be costly.”
He questioned whether the move would increase accountability since only 15 per cent of registered voters placed a ballot during the PCC elections and the fire services are run by democratically elected councillors.
“For the fire and rescue service to continue doing its job effectively it needs to remain independent and be properly funded by the Government,” he said.
Yet David Munro the Conservative candidate for the PCC election in May 2016 warned both the fire brigade and Mr Hurley against “knee-jerk reactions”.
“Outright condemnation or support to announcements are both wide of the mark, and represent an irresponsible knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
“‘I feel that the proposal is worth looking at, if only because it could lead to significant back-office savings. But merging two different cultures could be problematic and all major restructures cost money, not to mention considerable diversion of resources and energy. More work is needed to assess the move.”
A preliminary consultation on the proposals closed in October.