The Home Office has today announced that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will now be able to make a case for taking responsibility for fire and rescue services. This is no major surprise as consultation on the subject of ‘collaboration’ took place late last year which included this proposal.
The Government will take forward legislation to enable PCCs to hold their local fire and rescue services to account. This is part of a number of changes the Government claims will allow closer working between the police, fire and rescue and NHS ambulance services.
Potentially PCCs could create a single employer for both police and fire personnel if they are able to demonstrate a clear business case for doing so. While in principle we are not opposed to such a move, we have asked the Home Office for further clarification regarding the mechanics of how such a business case can be brought forward and who would make the ultimate decision.
The RFU has for years argued that there is a serious lack of accountability within local fire services across the UK. Fire Authorities (FA) are made up from local councillors and a FA can and does regularly change personnel over a councillor’s term of office (normally 4 years). The public has no say as to who sits on their local FA.
The situation in West Sussex where a single member of their Cabinet holds a portfolio which includes the local fire service is a good example of how the current system is undemocratic and lacks accountability to the public. The council is currently on their third Cabinet holder in as many years, each one making unjustified cuts to Retained resources locally. These Cabinet holders are not elected to these positions by the public and often make decisions for other areas excluding their own.
While some would argue that using PCCs is not the way forward, it is clear to us that the current arrangement whereby a FA merely rubber stamps the proposals of a Chief Fire Officer, is undemocratic, lacks genuine scrutiny and doesn’t provide the necessary accountability or best value to the public.