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Wednesday 07 November 2018, 6:22 AM
  • “Is Gloucestershire County Council the right body to oversee the fire service?“ is the question being put to local stakeholders in a public consultation.
  • “This is not a takeover bid but recent events have revealed serious failures of governance and leadership at the top of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service and the firefighters deserve better”, said Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl.
  • Fire Services are historically run by local councils but the Government believes governance by a fire commissioner will bring greater accountability and transparency
  • Gloucestershire’s PCC Martin Surl has produced a business case highlighting the need for tighter governance, sustainable finances and enhanced community safety.
  • It promises closer collaboration between police and fire services, greater visibility, a better use of public buildings and a clearer understanding of what the public gets for its money.
  • The public consultation with stakeholders will run until December 21

For the second time in just over a year Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl is launching a public discussion over who should oversee Gloucestershire’s Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS). 

At the heart of the consultation is whether the county council is the right body to supervise the organisation – or whether it would benefit from change.

 

Firefighter training

The long-running, and often acrimonious, debate 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.

Mr. Surl said, “This decision has been justified by the recent publication of the council’s own internal audit report following recent whistleblowing concerns which, among other things, recommended a review of Fire and Rescue Service governance.

“This is not a takeover bid and never has been. But recent events have revealed serious failures of governance and leadership at the top of GFRS and the firefighters deserve better. When you consider the benefits we've seen in terms of openness, accountability and transparency in respect of the police service, if that can be applied to the fire service then it is an opportunity we should explore.  

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service is currently governed from Shire Hall

“After due consideration, and following representations from a number of quarters including the Home Office, staff from GFRS and the public, I have decided to re-examine governance of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service.

“I have the greatest respect for firefighters who already play a significant role in my Police and Crime Plan in road safety and my aim is to get the best result for Gloucestershire”. 

 

Fire fighters make a significant contribution to road safety under the PCC's priority for 'Safe and social driving'

Following overwhelming opposition from the county council, the PCC decided to suspend reform last September, but only on the council’s assertion its existing governance arrangements were sound and an assurance from the authority that progress would be made towards closer collaboration between police and fire. 

The key tests are whether reform would be “in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness or public safety”.

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.

Fire service reform is being driven by new legislation

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

Mr. Surl said, “Recent developments within GFRS have led me to review my decision and I have therefore asked that earlier work carried out by PA Consulting be reviewed and refreshed by staff within my team. 

“The findings of this report are clear. Bringing fire and rescue and police services closer together under the same governance will enable both agencies to fulfill their statutory functions better, working collectively to make Gloucestershire a safer place to live and work by enhancing community safety. 

“Furthermore, the changes that a new and more transparent governance arrangement will bring will result in greater financial sustainability, transparency and cost effectiveness for Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, none of which is possible under the current governance arrangements”.  

 

The 152 page outline business case setting-out the case for change

There are currently four PFCCs responsible for governance of their local fire services in Essex, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Cambridgeshire and others will shortly be doing the same.

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.

The consultation closes on 21 December 2018.

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