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Enabling savings in emergency services through co-location

Source: Public Sector Executive Dec/Jan 2015

John Hodges, assistant chief fire officer at Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, tells PSE how two Fire Transformation Fund bids could help enable ‘significant’ savings for the local emergency services.

In a bid to deliver ‘significant’ savings, Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) has plans to relocate its headquarters from the outskirts of Worcester to join West Mercia Police at its HQ in Hindlip Hall.

The project, awarded £1.89m by the government’s Fire Transformation Fund, should create back-office efficiencies and ‘harmonise’ operational responses.

Intelligent mobilising

John Hodges, assistant chief fire officer (ACFO) at HWFRS, told PSE that the relocation plans, if approved, will be “crucial” in developing working relationships and operational capabilities with the police.

“Part of the bid focuses on joint mobilising arrangements, which we can be innovative in,” he said. “This would go beyond just simply co-location and instead into integrating systems with the various types of data held by police and fire.

“For instance, we could provide police officers with intelligence about the premises they are attending and likewise when fire and rescue respond to a call, if there are people issues, we could understand the intelligence more before we turn up at an incident.

“There is a great opportunity for more intelligent mobilising, but it will also bring other key departments together such as emergency planning roles – where we are developing operational response plans for major incidents and by being co-located these can be improved.”

The bid links to potential transformational changes at the Hindlip Hall site under consideration by West Mercia Police. The purpose-built site houses support, training and admin services, plus specialist teams like CID, force operations and the control room.

In the future the site, according to Hodges, could have three separate buildings for command and control, major events management and contact management, or they could all be rolled up into one location.

“The idea is that we will have part or one of those buildings. If there is one central building we will have a wing of that building and locate our HQ with them, whatever the decision is,” said Hodges.

“Ideally we’re hoping this would come to fruition by the end of 2017. There is, obviously, the relocation of the HQ element and the build and the design of new joint-mobilising arrangements, and any technological solutions that support that along with the relocation of the fire control staff.”

PSE was told that staff numbers would probably stay the same because it would be about bringing the two organisations together and joint mobilising. However, it has the potential for more “efficient” mobilising in the future.

Moving from the HWFRS HQ on Charles Hastings Way could cut costs, and generate savings by selling the property or letting it out, but a decision has not been made on this. Other staff could be transferred to existing fire service facilities, such as the new Bromsgrove Police and Fire Station. “Again, money will be saved by not having a standalone HQ building,” said Hodges.

Blue light hub

Separately to the HQ co-location bid, HWFRS has won £2.38m to create a new Wyre Forest blue light hub, relocating three fire stations – Kidderminster, Bewdley and Stourport – into a new purpose-built central station. This new facility should have space for police and ambulance personnel, plus the Severn Area Rescue Association. 

There has been local opposition to the plans. For example, Derek Killingworth, the Mayor of Bewdley, was quoted by local paper The Shuttle as saying: “We will fight any decision to close our fire station…For anyone to say that the town can safely be served from Kidderminster is rubbish.”

But Hodges said co-locating the blue light hub would let the emergency services better coordinate and deliver services. HWRFS has promised a comprehensive consultation to explain the options and impacts on response times.

There is no official timescale for the hub development, which Hodges believes will be guided, to a degree, by the level of public consultation needed to satisfy everybody.

“Once we’ve gone through that period, we will look at the building delivery and how long it will take to get the appropriate permissions [from the Fire and Rescue Authority]. I certainly wouldn’t want to be rushed in terms of the consultation: it is crucial,” he said.

Authority chair Cllr Derek Prodger MBE said it welcomes any additional money to support projects that help sustain local services into the future. “We are especially pleased that both of our grant bids were successful,” he said. “But there is a lot of detail that now needs to be worked up and presented to the Fire and Rescue Authority before any approvals can be given.”

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