Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl has explained how changes to the way Gloucestershire’s county’s Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) is governed would lead to greater public safety.

Appearing before a Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) committee on Wednesday 12 December he said both police and fire services would be enhanced because reform would remove the barrier to closer collaboration.

Speaking directly to members of the council’s Environment and Communities Scrutiny Committee and Police and Crime Panel for the first time, Mr. Surl said it would also provide clearer financial transparency and accountability.

He told councillors, “A review of the governance of police and fire and rescue services offers a real opportunity to improve community safety.

“A single line of accountability between the fire and rescue and police services through a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) will support and empower their teams to concentrate on what they do best. It will deliver the best possible community safety and emergency services provision for people in Gloucestershire.

“The proposed changes are underpinned by research and planning into collaboration and joint working as set out in the business case and reflect historic efforts to pioneer a ’tri-service’ agency of emergency services for Gloucestershire.

“With the unique benefits of improved direct accountability for both fire and rescue and police services, the PFCC will ensure community safety is a priority providing efficiency and effectiveness for the people of Gloucestershire”.

The question of fire service governance was originally triggered by the Government’s wish to see a more joined-up approach in the way police and fire services work together; making local fire services more accountable to the communities they serve and to see if reforms which have brought greater accountability and transparency to the police could do the same for the fire service.

Under the Policing and Crime Act, which became law last year, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners (PFCCs) can assume responsibility for both services or they can be run by one chief officer under a PFCC.

The Policing and Crime Act of 2017 was brought in by then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd

An independent report, sponsored by the Home Office last year, highlighted strong evidence the county would benefit greatly from reform to how GFRS is governed. That report was refreshed by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and an outline business case is currently out to public consultation.

Councillors have consistently opposed any of the reforms being proposed. The public debate has also been dogged by the amount of misinformation it has generated.

In a climate of ‘fake news’, sorting fact from fiction can be difficult for the public

As part of the public consultation, and in an attempt to clear up the confusion, the PCC suggested a face-to-face meeting with councillors which took place in a Shire Hall committee room on Wednesday.

He said, “Despite what councillors have said, none of the proposals amount to a merger of the police and fire services. I am not attempting a ‘hostile takeover’, nor am I ‘empire building’ nor seeking to change firefighters core working practices”.

The public consultation runs until 21 December. You can submit your views by clicking here.

The final decision will be made by the Home Secretary based on the evidence of the consultation and where a local case is made.