Watchdog reviews proposed Fire and Rescue changes

North Yorkshire’s community safety watchdog has heard proposals by the Police and Crime Commissioner for changes to who oversees the Fire and Rescue Service.

Watchdog meeting at County Hall reviews proposed Fire and Rescue changes

At a North Yorkshire Corporate and Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, Julia Mulligan outlined her preferred option for changes to the governance of the Fire and Rescue Service. She put forward a ‘Local Business Case’ for accelerating the pace of collaboration between the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service.

The proposals would mean the Police and Crime Commissioner would take on responsibility for the Fire and Rescue Service and that the Fire and Rescue Authority would cease to exist as a governing body.

The Fire and Rescue Authority is made up of 16 elected councillors representing the City of York and North Yorkshire County Council.

At the committee meeting, county councillors raised a number of concerns, including:

The Local Business Case does not clearly explain why there is a pressing need to move to new governance arrangements

The pace of collaboration has been slow in some areas but there is no real understanding as to why and what options there are to address it

Questions as to why there was such a limited view of collaboration, when there are real opportunities to develop whole-sector approaches to collaborative working

The financial arguments are not clear - in particular, it is unclear whether critical future funding from central government will be secured.

Councillor Derek Bastiman, chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “We are supportive of collaborative working between the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service, where it can be demonstrated that it improves outcomes and helps to save money that can then be invested in front line services.

“The concern is that the arguments put forward to date in favour of changes to the governance of the Fire and Rescue service have not been convincing. If the pace and scope of collaboration between the two services needs to be accelerated and expanded, then surely it makes sense, first and foremost, to fully understand what is holding things up and then work out how to address that. Why leap straight to changes in governance that may well prove to be irreversible?

“The county council has been working for many years with the emergency services, district councils, the NHS, the voluntary and community sector and many others. Joint initiatives, when properly planned and tested, can improve services and reduce costs. The North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority has been a key partner in this process.

“It is overly simplistic to focus in on models of one dimensional collaboration. The real challenge and opportunity comes from multilateral collaboration and joint working across a broad range of agencies and organisations in the county. The concern is that a strong, exclusive and unilateral arrangement between the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service will undermine some of the joint work that has been done to date and limit what can be gained from countywide collaboration and partnership working in the future.”

considering the arguments put forward by the Police and Crime Commissioner, the chairman of the Fire and Rescue Authority, county councillors and members of the public, the committee decided that the preferred option for North Yorkshire was a ‘Representation Model’ meaning the Police and Crime Commissioner would become the 17th member of the Fire and Rescue Authority. This would enable new approaches to be tested before commitments were made to more radical changes.

The consultation on the proposals ends on Friday, 22 September. The consultation documents can be accessed on www.telljulia.com

Cllr Bastiman said: “We would encourage people to take part in the consultation and to ensure that their voice is heard. This may seem like a dry and technical discussion about who manages what, but the implications for the Fire and Rescue Service could be far reaching, as the Fire and Rescue Authority ceases to exist and its roles and responsibilities are taken on by the Police and Crime Commissioner.”

This story was published 31 July 2017