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Police and Crime Commissioner to control fire service in Essex

26 July 2017

ESSEX Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Roger Hirst is to assume control of the county’s fire and rescue service.

The Home Office has announced that PCC Roger Hirst’s proposal to take on responsibility for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service has been approved by the Home Secretary. He is to become the UK's first combined police and fire commissioner in October. This marks an important step in the Government’s drive to see police and fire collaborate further and faster to benefit their local communities.

Mr Hirst’s proposal was submitted following a public consultation and endorsement from all three top-tier local authorities in the area. Through the Policing and Crime Act 2017, the Government has introduced a range of measures to drive greater collaboration between emergency services. This includes enabling PCCs to take on governance of fire and rescue services where a local case is made.

PCC Hirst claims his expanded role will enable the two services to work more effectively together to protect the public and secure best value for money. But he stressed that the important distinction between operational policing and fire-fighting will still be maintained. PCC Hirst, said: “The people of Essex deserve to have the best possible emergency services. By bringing together the governance of the Essex Police and Essex County Fire and Rescue Service we can support closer working and make investment decisions that will bring even bigger benefits in the future.

“By ensuring a more joined-up response to incidents, providing crime and fire prevention advice, creating community safety hubs, and sharing buildings we can improve how we work and generate significant savings which can then be reinvested back into front line services.

“Essex has always been an innovative and forward-thinking county as shown by the support we have received for this proposal. Together we can do more to improve the service we give to the public and help keep people safe.”

Speaking at Essex Fire and Rescue headquarters, the minister for policing and fire Nick Hurd said: “It’s great to see Essex taking the lead in this field and bringing forward a proposal which has support from local authorities across the county and from many of the public.

“I want to see our emergency services continue to drive closer collaboration to encourage joint working, the sharing of best practice and more innovative thinking.

“Having a directly accountable leader overseeing policing and fire will help both services enhance their effectiveness, maximise available resources, enhance local resilience and improve the services delivered to the public. I’m really looking forward to seeing the benefits this will bring to the local area.”

A number of other PCCs are currently developing business cases or exploring options for the future governance of fire and rescue services.

In 2016/17, the Home Office awarded £1 million from the Police Transformation Fund to nine PCCs for their work in developing business cases to take on the additional responsibility for the governance of fire and rescue in their area.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) fears the move will put the independence and neutrality of the fire service at risk as well as resulting in more frontline cuts. FBU Essex secretary Alan Chinn-Shaw said: “The fire and rescue service holds a special position within our community, having established good relations and high levels of trust with the public. This is because firefighters offer a purely humanitarian, neutral and life-saving service. We are not law enforcers. The introduction of Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners threatens this model, which has worked well for decades.

“If the public perception of the fire service begins to change and we are seen to have close links with the police force, it will make the work of firefighters a lot more difficult. This has already been seen in Essex where our links to the local community have been damaged by our attendance at the evictions of the Crays Hill travellers’ site. 

“The neutrality of the fire service means we can gain access to areas of society where the attendance of police officers has not always been so welcome. It is vital that the fire service and police force maintain distinct and separate identities.”

The FBU has been working with the new commissioner and are seeking assurances that there will be no further cuts to the frontline service. Since 2010, over 270 frontline firefighter posts have been axed at Essex Fire and Rescue Service, approximately 20% of the workforce.