The planned takeover of Cambridgeshire’s fire services by the county’s police and crime commissioner has been strongly criticised by the body he is seeking to replace.
Jason Ablewhite is looking to take on the governance of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service by replacing the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority.
However, the fire authority has hit out at the police and crime commissioner’s (PCC) business plan which sets out his reasoning for wanting to take over the running of the fire service from April 2018 if he receives approval from the Home Office.
It follows new legislation which allows police and crime commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services in their area where a good case is made to do so.
Chairman of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority, Councillor Kevin Reynolds, said: “The police and crime commissioner’s preference is for him to take over governance of the fire service.
“This is based on recommendations made in the business case that he commissioned. This would mean our fire authority would no longer exist and the PCC would be the sole decision maker for the fire service.
“At our meeting members unanimously agreed that the business case did not contain sufficient evidence to prove the case for what could be a costly and unnecessary change in governance arrangements. It also may well reduce the ability of local people to influence the activities of their local fire and rescue service.
“After going through the business case in great detail, we found that it lacks enough evidence to demonstrate that the PCC’s preferred option of taking over the authority is the best option for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Many of the benefits cited in the business case lack the strong level of evidence required to demonstrate a governance change is needed.
“Members agreed that a better option would be to maintain the fire authority, offering the PCC a seat at the table with voting rights, which is another potential option under the new legislation. In our opinion, we are certain we could achieve the same benefits by simply continuing to work more closely together and without making any unnecessary, costly and unsettling governance change.
“One of the benefits cited under the option to take over governance is the ability to collaborate more, especially by sharing estates. Evidence shows this collaboration is already happening not only between police and fire but also between fire and a whole range of public sector partners.
“The fire authority already actively seek to collaborate with others and are currently in partnership with the police, ambulance service, local authorities and other fire and rescue services. Our consultation response details numerous examples of successful collaborations that have taken place over recent years.
“The cost savings cited from a governance change in the business case also do not appear to have enough evidence behind them to support any change. We question whether a potential and unsubstantiated saving of £14,000 per year is a strong enough reason for wholesale change.
“Our response highlights several examples of areas where the authority has collaborated and continues to make significant, ongoing cost savings.
“Another argument is accountability. The PCC claims that there is greater accountability in his preferred option. However, the fire authority is made up of 17 cross-party councillors who are elected by the public to represent their local needs and so have ongoing contact with communities across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“We question whether a PCC who already has such a wide range of responsibilities could reach out and engage the opinion of local people as effectively as the current arrangements.
“Also, we do not see a beneficial fit with the police. We have different cultures and accountabilities.
“The fire service has a brand that is trusted by the public and we know from experience that firefighters and our community safety staff are able to get into people’s homes because of this trusted brand and they succeed where other partners fail. Any shared governance may impact this.
“We have entered into this process with an open mind and have worked openly and honest with the PCC. We strongly encourage people to complete the survey and have their say about how their local fire and rescue service should be governed and held to account.”
A short online survey can be found at: www.cambridgeshire-pcc.gov.uk/fire.