21 December 2015
The proposal by the Home Secretary, Teresa May, to put fire services in England under the control of regional Police and Crime Commissioners, has sparked a furious response from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which has described it as ‘stupid and dangerous’.
The Home Office would take charge of fire and rescue policy in 2016 and merge control of the police and fire services. Ministers argue that the plans would save money and provide ‘direct, democratic accountability’.
The FBU’s objections to the plans, announced on 19 December, is that ‘abolishing fire authorities, comprised of democratically elected councillors, would sweep away vital democratic safeguards.’
Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, 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 a costly experiment.’
He continued: The home secretary talks of increasing accountability, but PCCs were elected on a historically low turnout of just 15%. Abolishing fire authorities, would sweep away vital democratic safeguards. Giving police and crime commissioners control of the fire and rescue service is a stupid and dangerous proposal. It is not supported by firefighters or by local communities and the decision to proceed down this road is a remarkable departure from a government which claims to be committed to ‘localism’.
“For the fire and rescue service to continue doing its job effectively it needs to remain independent and be properly funded by the government.”
Fire and rescue services currently are under the control of authorities overseen by local councillors.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, Kevin Hurley, was quoted by the BBC saying, “There are many similarities in the way in which fire services and police services work, the way they are trained, the way they acquire their equipment and so on."
Mr Hurley said it would be better for the services to work together to support merging "back office functions" and "make the best of this in the public interest", rather than trying to block the proposals.
He continued, ”Money is always going to be an issue in terms of what the fire service or police can put out into the field, and there are all sorts of opportunities to take cost out and put that money back into the front line.”
Click here to read and download the consultation document, ‘Enabling closer working between the emergency services’.