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26.01.16

PCC control of fire brigades ‘needs watertight business plan’ – LGA

Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) could potentially create a single employer for police and fire staff as part of proposed legislation to integrate the police, fire and rescue and NHS ambulance services.

Mike Penning, minister for policing, fire, criminal justice and victims, argued that the government’s proposals is about smarter working, because it “simply doesn’t make sense” for emergency services to have different premises, back offices and IT systems “when their work is so closely related and they often share the same boundaries”.

If PCCs can demonstrate a clear business case for this, they could be able to take on the functions and duties of fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) – and effectively hire and sack staff.

In areas where a PCC has not become responsible for fire and rescue, the government is looking to legislate to allow them to have representation on their local FRA with voting rights, if the authority agrees.

The LGA has previously campaigned against transferring control of firefighters from councillors to PCCs, arguing it would “divert valuable resources” away from the sector’s important community work.

Its response today was considerably milder, with Cllr Jeremy Hilton, the body’s fire services management committee chair, saying the LGA “believes there is no pressing need” to change councillors’ involvement with FRAs.

“The government should not impose change for change's sake. However, we do support improved collaboration between the three emergency services,” he added.

“The LGA would only support changes to the governance of FRAs if there is an agreement between the PCC and the local fire and rescue authority, underwritten by a watertight business plan that also has the support of the local community.”

Other proposals floated as a result of a government consultation include abolishing the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, handing direct responsibility to the mayor instead.

Whitehall is also seeking to introduce a statutory duty for the three emergency services to collaborate.

The consultation was jointly produced by the Home Office, the DCLG and the Department of Health in September of last year, against backdrop claims that the move would improve both efficiency and effectiveness. Prime minister David Cameron already indicated at the time that a statutory duty “to identify collaborative opportunities” could come into force.

Earlier this year, the government moved one step closer to its aims when the DCLG announced it would hand over control for FRAs to the Home Office to support the services’ “radical transformation”.

The government used the recent floods that battered the north of England at the time to exemplify the benefits brought forth by this collaborative model.

Penning, who was made policing, fire and criminal justice minister when the switchover took place, said today: “Strong leadership will be required to drive greater efficiencies and improved outcomes.

“Directly elected PCCs are clearly accountable to the public and have a strong incentive to pursue ambitious reform and deliver value for money. We will enable them to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made.”

The government claimed that the consultation, signed by the secretaries of state for communities, health and the Home Office, attracted more than 300 responses from national, local and regional bodies, most of which signalled “significant support” for a possible duty on all three services to collaborate with each other.

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