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Commissioner’s Response to the Home Office Consultation – Enabling Closer Working Between Emergency Services

11th September 2015

Vera Baird’s Response to the Home Office Consultation – September 2015

 1. How do you think this new duty would help drive collaboration between the emergency services?

There is considerable collaborative work between police and the Fire and Rescue Service in Northumbria already and all parties are likely to welcome the new duty which will help us to retain focus and give renewed vigour to overcoming practical barriers. It is our view that this is the right approach and for our local needs is the best mechanism for us to seek to sustain top quality public services together, in the current time of austerity. Using the duty in this manner will prevent the need to enter into cumbersome, probably impractical, reorganisation of complex local governance.

2. Do you agree that the process set out above would provide an appropriate basis to determine whether a Police and Crime Commissioner should take on responsibility for fire and rescue services?

In Northumbria there are two Fire and Rescue Services. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) and Northumberland County Fire and Rescue Service. Whilst TWFRS has a freestanding Fire Authority, Northumberland FRS is an integral part of the County Council, subject to a portfolio-holder who is the Deputy Leader of the Council. It is given a high priority and is a welcome asset in the Northumberland County council of which it has always been a part. We have a number of shared premises with Northumberland FRS and are jointly planning more for the future. There is already significant joint delivery of services which protect the safety of the public and progressing consideration of more, such as dementia search, joint work on the analysis of complex areas of crime, thermal imaging, work at height, use of the FRS expertise to enter houses for health rescue purposes in preference to the use of police and a number of others. None of this requires or will be enhanced by a change of governance.

I have explored the financial and practical position with the Chief Fire Officer and also independently and it is my firm view that it would be a wasteful and almost certainly fruitless exercise to seek laboriously to disengage this long term integration in order to seek to integrate it with the Office of the PCC or otherwise with police, so as to bring it within my governance. Further it is not necessary or desirable to seek to do so. Shared overheads, joint working and economies of scale are already available to the Service from its current integration with the County. The addition of the smallest Fire and Rescue Service in England to the OPCC would not boost its ability to gain on joint procurement or save significantly on any overheads, nor boost any ability for joint working not already available through current friendly relations and perhaps, shortly through the joint collaboration board considered below.

TWFRS is subject to keen and experienced governance from locally elected councillors on the Fire Authority. There is an excellent relationship between councillors and the Office of PCC as can be seen from the current collaboration arrangements and our plans to do more. We have an increasing number of shared premises and a common view on estates planning for the future; consideration is underway on matters such as shared fleet maintenance, training, and the generic support services vital to both. The current and planned joint working we have with the County FRS is replicated with TWFRS. There is additionally a joint project – Safetyworks! – funded through a recent tranche of the Home Office Police Innovation Fund, a building in which fire service personnel and police civilian staff work jointly on creating a centre of excellence for the delivery of educational projects. These include anti-grooming and safe relationships packages for schools who visit Safetyworks and standard citizenship education such as Metro, road and fire safety and personal security.

Consideration is being given to a tripartite collaborative board, of OPCC, Fire Authority and County Council, or perhaps one with wider membership in order to formalise the means of building on and enhancing this collaborative work as it increases in scope. My view is that this is a more appropriate way forward to share governance and oversight with Blue light colleagues without the need for a top-down reorganisation of governance. Bringing TWFRS under the governance of the PCC would not enhance the collaborative opportunities since they would always be pursued, indeed have to be pursued, with the consent of the local authorities who share the PCC’s community safety responsibilities and whose interests are represented on the Authority

I disagree in principle with the transfer of governance to the PCC. Fire Authority colleagues have made clear that they too are against it. For the reasons set out above, I do not see a robust business case and I would not consider trying to make a business case without local buy-in which is not available.

In answer to the question, the proposed basis would be appropriate for areas were the position is different from that in Northumbria.

3. Do you agree that the case for putting in place a single employer should be assessed using the same process as for a transfer of governance?

As with question 2, I reiterate a disagreement with the proposal but again if all constituent authorities, in other areas are supportive of and have made a local case for a single employer then the process as outlined for the transfer of governance would be appropriate.

4. What benefits do you think could be achieved from empowering Police and Crime Commissioners to create a single employer for police and fire and rescue personnel, whilst retaining separate frontline services, where a local case has been made to do so?

The only basis on which a PCC would put in place a single employer status would be where all the constituent parties are in agreement to the transfer of governance, then it would seem appropriate that the process outlined be followed.

However it is worth noting that even without a transfer of governance the benefits of a single employer could be achieved through the use of contracts and collaboration agreements facilitating the sharing of back office functions if a PCC and constituent authorities were to work together in future and this work, could be strengthened and progressed more efficiently with a collaborative board.

5. Do you agree that the requirement for a chief officer to have previously held the office of constable should be removed for senior fire officers?

If Government or a PCC intends to implement the single officer structure, the senior officer role should be open to individuals with experience of leading in either service.

6. How do you think the requirement for a Police and Crime Commissioner to have access to an informed, independent assessment of the operational performance of the fire service should best be met?

Not applicable in Northumbria as above. Improvements can be made to any inspection regime and the importance of transparency and public reassurance must be retained and where appropriate strengthened within the fire and rescue inspection regime.

7. Do you agree that where a Police and Crime Commissioner takes responsibility for a fire and rescue service, the Police and Crime Panel should have its remit extended to scrutinise decision making in relation to fire services?

Extension of the remit of the scrutiny by the Police and Crime Panel to fire and rescue services would seem appropriate where local decisions have been made to transfer governance to the PCC.

8. Do you think that where a Police and Crime Commissioner takes responsibility for a fire and rescue service, the Police and Crime Panel should have its membership refreshed to include experts in fire and rescue matters?

A Police and Crime Panel does not, in order to carry out their responsibility in relation to policing, currently include membership of ‘experts’ on policing. I cannot therefore see that expertise in fire and rescue service would be needed if the panel were to have its remit extended to scrutiny of decision making in respect of the fire service. The role of the panel is to provide challenge and reassurance on behalf of communities and to carry out this function elected and independent members do not require any specialist operational or technical knowledge of the service provision.  Indeed we need to ensure that the operational independence of a fire chief officer remains intact.

9. Do you think that where a Police and Crime Commissioner puts in place a single employer for fire and rescue and police services personnel, complaints and conduct matters concerning fire should be treated in the same way as complaints and conduct matters concerning the police?

It is essential that under any governance or employment structure that the process for dealing with complaints is transparent and accessible to local communities.  Complainants need to access clear information about how to complain, the timescales and processes that are in place for dealing with complaints and if necessary, what their right to appeal is, if the outcome of a complaint is not to their satisfaction.

10. Do you agree that Police and Crime Commissioners should be represented on fire and rescue authorities in areas where wider governance changes do not take place?

As PCC for Northumbria with a duty to collaborate between Police, Fire and Rescue, and Ambulance Services I feel that the best approach would be the establishment of a collaborative board as outlined above.

11. Do you agree that the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority should be abolished and direct responsibility for fire and rescue transferred to the Mayor of London?

12. In the event that the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority is abolished, how should responsibility for fire and rescue be incorporated into the mayoral structure?

 13. To what extent do you think there are implications for local resilience (preparedness, response and recovery) in areas where the Police and Crime Commissioner will have responsibility for police and fire?

In terms of resilience, the statutory roles of different partners (blue light and otherwise) are very clearly set out and differentiated. Collaboration on resilience lies with the Local Resilience Forum, which depends on effective operational and leadership relationships.

14. To what extent do you think there are implications for resilience responsibilities in areas where an elected metro mayor is also the Police and Crime Commissioner and responsible for the fire and rescue service?

Across England and Wales we understand that the enabling approach the Government has taken with the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill recognises that flexibility is needed for areas to change their governance structures to reflect the needs of their local area change.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to stronger governance structures.  Constituent authorities at a local level, dependent on the responsibilities that are devolved, will need to consider the local implications for resilience.

15. Are there are any other views or comments that you would like to add in relation to emergency services collaboration that were not covered by the other questions in this consultation?

No further comments

16. Do you think these proposals would have any effect on equalities issues?

In moving forward stronger collaboration and improved efficiency and effectiveness under whatever governance framework local areas have, joint working will as always enable a more effective approach to equalities issues.