08 September 2014

The need for further spending cuts will mean integrating the police, fire and ambulance emergency services so that the ‘still-large deficit can be reduced, Home Secretary Theresa May, has announced.

In a speech last week to the think tank Reform, Mrs May said: "With a still-large deficit and a record stock of debt, there will need to be further spending cuts.

"So in policing in the future, I believe we will need to work towards the integration of the three emergency services."

Mrs May said that the next “even tougher challenge is how we can reduce demand for public services through smarter policy. The need to go on reforming will not end with this parliament.”

It is thought that while frontline services may not change, there could be a way to share ‘back office functions’ and be located on the same site.

Some areas in the country have already started to merge services, and Mrs May referred to Northamptonshire, where Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds has launched joint operations planning teams involving both the police and fire services.

Mr Simmonds has been a great supporter of integration and has spoken about the future possibility of sending just one emergency vehicle to the scene of an accident – which would be equipped to deal with a variety of emergency situations.

Earlier this year the then Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, outlined some examples where plans to share services have been put in place to save money.

These included a predicted saving of £4m in Hampshire where the police, fire service and Hampshire County Council are sharing offices and £3.5m potentially to be saved in Merseyside, where fire and police services are planning to share a control room.

In an editorial following Mrs May’s announcement, The Guardian reported: “Although there are many successful examples of local collaboration – fire officers giving emergency first aid, or police travelling in the same vehicle as firemen – the prospect of real integration sheds a cold light on existing management structures. The ambulance service has been (painfully) consolidated into 10 regional trusts – which would not lightly be levered out of the NHS in the name of integration. But there are still 43 resolutely unconsolidated police services and 46 fire and rescue services, with 46 different governance, organisational and operational structures. While deaths from fire in the home are, happily, at a record low, the number of firefighters and the cost of running the fire service stays the same.”

Graham Ellicott, Chief Executive Officer of the FIA commented: “Any integration/consolidation of blue light services will undoubtedly be difficult and a cautious but firm approach will likely be needed. However before any approach is attempted the FIA believes that it would be prudent to try and bring more consistency to the operation of English Fire and Rescue Services, for example each of the 46 services operates a different attendance policy when it comes to Automatic Fire Alarm systems!  Surely in the 21st century there could be more consistency to be brought to this situation especially as now Primary Authority Schemes have been extended to fire. Such schemes offer assured advice from one Fire and Rescue Authority to a business that operated across more than one local authority area.”

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The Guardian comment

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