As the public consultation into Gloucestershire’s Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) governance enters its second month, here are the answers to the questions you’ve been asking the most.
Or just click here and watch a video that will tell you what Governance is all about.
We hope it will address any confusion or misconceptions you might have encountered so far.
If we already have accountability and governance for the Gloucestershire fire and rescue service, why do we need this change?
The need to review the governance of GFRS has been identified by Gloucestershire County Council’s own Internal Audit inspection into the circumstances that led to the recent whistleblowing complaint relating to Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service and it’s former Chief Officer.
As well as improving accountability, this business case is also about improving collaboration between the police and fire and rescue and enhancing community safety in Gloucestershire.
Why do we need political appointments to oversee police or fire and rescue services?
Emergency services have been governed by politicians for many years. Current Fire Authorities are (and former Police Authorities were) comprised of local councillors from Local Authorities who were nominated by their political parties.
Since 2012 Police and Crime Commissioners have been directly elected by the public with a specific mandate for policing and crime. Police Fire and Crime Commissioners would have the additional mandate for the governance of fire with responsibilities including the oversight and scrutiny of overall strategy, budgets, the appointment of chief officers and the production and promotion of a Police [Fire] and Crime Plan.
Operational delivery of the police and fire and rescue services would continue to be overseen by Chief Constables and Chief Fire Officers.
Isn’t this just empire building?
Since the Commissioner first looked at the case for fire governance change in 2017, there have been suggestions from critics that this agenda is simply a case of empire building.
The Home Office placed a responsibility on PCCs to look at fire governance via the Policing and Crime Act 2017 and provided funding to do this. It is part of the PCC’s ‘day job’ and several other areas across England have also explored the case for change.
Will the police just use fire money to prop up their services?
No. Government guidance is clear. Under a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) fire money will be used for fire, police money will be used for police. Where collaboration is possible, this can be jointly funded across services but fire money cannot and will not be used for the police and police money cannot and will not be used to pay for fire.
Shouldn’t the fire and rescue service be controlled by someone who has a background in the Fire service?
Yes of course. The ‘control’ (or management) of the Fire and Rescue Service will continue to be the function of a Chief Fire Officer in the same way the Chief Constable manages the Constabulary.
Under a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner model, the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) will be able to dedicate his or her time solely to the Fire Service. Currently in Gloucestershire, the Chief Fire Officer has additional responsibilities within the County Council and is the named Head of ICT and Head of Syrian Refugee Settlement. The Senior Fire team also leads on Trading Standards, Coroners and Registration Services, Civil Protection, Road Safety and Business Continuity Management for the County Council.
Will the changes lead to fire fighters being asked to fight crime rather that deal with fire safety?
No. Firefighters will not be carrying out functions on behalf of the police. Government legislation makes it very clear there will be no operational merger of services. Firefighters will not become crime fighters and police officers will not put out fires.
Shouldn’t the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) concentrate on the police service and not other services?
The PCC has responsibilities for policing and crime in Gloucestershire and this includes working with partners to ensure everyone is doing what they can to make communities safer.
Where are savings made? Isn’t this really an excuse to cover up less funding in the future for fire and rescue?
Stronger collaboration should mean that services can be better managed. For example, collocation of services will reduce some budget pressures, as will shared procurement wherever possible. Experience has shown that both of these examples are more likely to succeed under a single governance model. The outline business case sets out ways in which the changes might save money and enable new investment in front line services.
Will the PCC be paid more if he becomes the PFCC?
Yes, a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner receives an additional allowance of £3,000 which is set nationally.
All salaries and allowances for Police and Crime Commissioners are agreed at a national level by the Home Office. Salaries for PCCs currently range from £65,000 to £100,000. The Gloucestershire PCC’s salary is £65,000. However, the prime motivation for the changes being proposed is to deliver improvements to community safety for Gloucestershire as set out in the consultation document.
Will this change mean that the fire and rescue service no longer responds to emergency social care alarms as they do now?
Will changes to fire and rescue service governance be detrimental to the good working relationships and partnerships between the Fire and Rescue Service and others particularly in Health and Social Care?
There is no reason or evidence to suggest that a change in governance would undermine strong, established partnerships with any other agencies. There is a statutory responsibility for public services to work together to tackle inequalities and vulnerability. A change in governance would only seek to enhance this and any existing commissioned services – for example emergency alarms for vulnerable people – could continue to be commissioned in the same way as at the moment.
The fire service currently also provides some emergency response services for social care providers – is that going to be put at risk?
No. The PCC’s priority is improving community safety and there is no reason why current contracts for emergency response services cannot be provided if the service is overseen by the PCC. There is no intention to change the current arrangement.
Will a change in Fire and Rescue governance affect staff working terms and conditions?
No. There will be no changes to terms and conditions to frontline or support staff in GFRS.
Why is this consultation taking place now – is it being rushed?
A change was looked at a couple of years ago and put on hold. However, following recent changes at the head of the fire and rescue service and following an audit report, it was decided, in the best interests of community safety and the people of Gloucestershire, to re-open the process. The specific timeline for the consultation was set by the Home Office.
Why not just collaborate – haven’t things already got better?
There has always been collaboration between our emergency services, specifically in response to particular events and demands but this change will enable this process to go further, which, the PCC, Martin Surl believes will create even safer communities in Gloucestershire.
Some time ago there were significant local efforts to pioneer a ‘tri-service’ agency of emergency services for Gloucestershire which had widespread support and which led to the development of the current geographical location of Gloucestershire’s emergency services. This was derailed by changing local priorities over a decade ago but there remains much local support for emergency service collaboration to deliver this vision.
Is this going to take money from the provision of the fire and rescue service?
No, it is more likely there will be more money for fire and rescue services in the future, if the changes take place. In Gloucestershire, expenditure on fire and rescue has fallen significantly faster than county council expenditure overall and there currently is no year-on-year financial certainty. Under the proposed changes, there will be improving financial security for the fire and rescue service with a dedicated fire budget.
Members of the public and other stakeholders can make their views on how they believe the fire and rescue service should be governed in future in a number of ways.
Online at: https://www.gloucestershire-pcc.gov.uk/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Police.uk
- By Post: Office of the Police Crime Commissioner, Gloucestershire Constabulary, No. 1 Waterwells, Waterwells Drive, Quedgeley, Gloucester GL2 2AN