The future of Gloucestershire’s Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) has been put on hold once again.
Police and Fire Service Minister Nick Hurd has postponed a decision on whether the organisation should be governed by a police, fire and crime commissioner or remains under the control of the county council until May 2020 at the earliest.
Although there has not yet been an official announcement, the news was conveyed in an email to Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl.
Citing ‘significant parliamentary and policy pressures’ Mr. Hurd wrote, “I recognise the work that you have put into developing, engaging and consulting on this business case. However, it is now not possible for the Department to assess fire governance proposals ahead of the May 2020 elections.
“I appreciate all the hard work that has gone into this and the steps you have taken to engage with the community and local stakeholders on your business case.
“We remain fully committed to emergency services collaboration and to the policy of enabling PCCs to take on fire governance. We look forward to considering the proposal and any updates to it after the May 2020 PCC elections”.
Mr. Surl said, “Obviously, I am disappointed but not surprised given the situation in which the Government currently finds itself and the other demands on its time.
“…This delay also provides an opportunity… to press ahead with operational collaborative opportunities.”
“It will also be frustrating, I’m sure, for the majority of those who work in the police and fire services, as well as the general public, who took part in the consultation and expressed their support for change.
“It was the Government who commissioned PCCs to investigate the possible benefits of reform so they are entitled to take as long as they want to make up their minds as it’s also apparent from the minister’s letter that fire governance reform is still on their agenda.
“Yet this delay also provides an opportunity. Many of the ideas the county council proposed in its opposition to change were already contained in the business case I submitted to the Home Secretary. It gives us an opportunity to press ahead with the operational collaborative opportunities that have been identified through the Collaboration Board, established by my office in 2018”.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) has been governed by the county council for over 40 years. The long-running and often acrimonious debate was triggered when the Policing and Crime Act 2017 placed a statutory obligation on emergency services to collaborate and enable Police and Crime Commissioners to take on responsibilities for fire and rescue services in their area.
Significant gains around community safety can still be achieved through closer collaboration
The Government’s stated aim was 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 see if reforms which have brought greater accountability and transparency to the police could do the same for the fire service.
Mr. Surl said, “Like the police, our firefighters do an incredible job and are rightly valued by the public, but I believe the case was made that would have resulted in significant gains around community safety and for Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service itself.
“It doesn’t mean those gains cannot still be achieved. I hope the county council will drop its campaign of opposition in favour of closer collaboration which the Government wants; the people of Gloucestershire deserve and will put an end to the acrimony which has been evident since this process began”.
Read the letter here:Emergency Services Collaboration - Letter from Policing and Fire Minister