A police and crime commissioner (PCC) has launched a 12-week consultation on the joining of the police and fire service, in a national first that is expected to generate more than £30 million in savings.
Roger Hirst: 'Research consistently
shows fragmented governance acts
as a barrier to effective
Essex PCC Roger Hirst will consult the public after laws passed in January allowed fire and rescue governance to be brought under the authority of a PCC.
Although he insists the change is not being made to save money, Mr Hirst said any savings “will be reinvested into working with the community”.
The proposed collaboration will see the fire and police service in Essex share control rooms but the commissioner insisted it is “not a merger”.
“You won’t be seeing police officers trying to do fire officers jobs,” he added.
The collaboration aims to make better use of stations and front desks, improve public safety outcomes and enable the two services to share knowledge.
Mr Hirst said: “Collaboration between police and fire to date has not yet developed in a significant way. Some things have been tried such as collaborating on missing persons, and then it’s not gone very far.
“There’s been collaboration over home visits, then it has stopped again because people keep changing their minds on what is really important right now. Officers’ are learning new ways of working then it stops.
“Research consistently shows fragmented governance acts as a barrier to effective collaboration. Delivering this ambitious programme for Essex would require a step-change in governance.”
Within the consultation, he has given three options to the public.
The first is the PCC becomes the 26th voting member of the Essex Fire Authority and continues to govern Essex Police.
Mr Hirst would prefer for this not to happen, as it means he becomes just one voice of 26, and although it is easy to implement, it will not be very effective.
The second option – and favoured – is the PCC taking on the role of the Essex Fire Authority, and becoming police, fire and crime commissioner.
The commissioner would govern both the fire and police service, while each organisation would have separate chief officers which he will hold to account.
The third option is the PCC taking on the role of the Essex Fire Authority, becoming police, fire and crime commissioner, but a single chief officer is appointed to lead both services.
Although Mr Hirst says this is likely to be the most effective option, implementing the change will be lengthy and challenging.
If the recommended option is agreed, Mr Hirst will oversee a total budget of £338 million. However, he insisted the budgets would remain separate.
The local business case – published along with the consultation – suggests one of the reasons for collaboration is the “challenges” that the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) has encountered.
In September 2015, a review of the ECFRS found it was “a failing organisation” in need of an overhaul with a “toxic” organisational culture.
A year later, it was found that although progress had been made, there still “remained much to do”.
Also set out in the business case is the potential savings that closer collaboration could bring.
An estimated £30.8 million over ten years could be saved by sharing control rooms, estates and business services providing key support functions such as HR, IT and finance.
The collaboration should be enforced on October 1 this year; however the commissioner says this is only possible if his preferred option is chosen.
“The October 1 date is only possible if we have broad support from all stakeholders, so that’s the services themselves, the tier 1 authorities and the public,” he added.
“I’d like to do it as fast as possible because I really don’t like the idea of leaving the workforces in uncertainty, that’s not at all helpful.
“Equally I recognise that if we do need to take more time to make material modifications, then October 1 won’t happen.”
Once the consultation ends in May, an updated version of the business case will be submitted to the Home Office, which will then decide whether to approve it.