In January the responsibility of Fire & Rescue services within central government moved from the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Home Office. This is clearly to make things easier for the government’s agenda of merging blue light services, specifically with Police and Crime Commissioners taking over Fire Services from local authorities.
In Northamptonshire, plans for this are going full steam ahead but actually merging the two services is different from them just collaborating in their working arrangements to create efficiencies which I think everybody sees the sense of. Indeed there are even more opportunities for greater joint working between the Fire Service and health partners including the Ambulance Service
Putting the PCC in charge of both services raises obvious concerns. Generally the public have great faith in firefighters, and firefighters themselves are rightly concerned that this trust could be jeopardised if they join the same organisation as the police. The Local Government Associations (which represents al councillors across the country from all political groups) has genuine concerns about this and are clear that they don’t feel in necessary to change the governance of Fire and Rescue to bring about the efficiencies and savings that are being sought.
The response to the recent flooding in the north of the country shows what an excellent job the Fire Service does and that they can already work efficiently with organisations from across the public sector, and there is a worry that the proposed changes might in actual fact undermine the excellent work already underway in transforming services by collaborative working with partners.
The government are clearly keen to move this on and in Northamptonshire there is no doubt that both the current Conservative Police and Crime Commissionaire and the Conservative County Council are willing to embrace the formal merging of these services. Elsewhere, others are more cautious, seeing the end goal of greater efficiencies worthwhile, but urging care that joining together currently separate services might actually put at risk the efficiencies the plan hopes to achieve.
Councillors Eileen Hales and Mick Scrimshaw at Kettering Fire Station