(The below appeared as a letter in the Friday 7 July edition of Gloucestershire Echo and the Saturday 8 edition of Gloucester Citizen)
I wanted to correct any misunderstanding that may have arisen following last week’s vote in the county council on the governance of the local fire service. It’s important that everyone understands what is being looked-at at the moment, and more importantly, what isn’t.
First of all, the Government has asked all Police and Crime Commissioners to look at existing collaboration arrangements with local fire authorities. It wants to make sure emergency services are working as effectively as possible and has recently changed the law to allow services to work more closely together. I am obliged by law to investigate this collaboration so it is very frustrating to be accused of ‘empire building’.
The implication from councillors is that I have somehow wasted taxpayers’ money whereas the reality is that I have been trying to discuss collaboration with the County Council for many months. Not only have they declined, but they have also declared their opposition even before they had received their own report. Were they instructed to do so by their political leaders? As an Independent, I am under no such pressure.
If not, I am bound to ask how many members had the opportunity to actually read that report before last week’s debate. I suspect very few, if any, given that many referred to a police and fire service ‘merger’, which is not what PCCs have been asked to look at.
Had the council accepted my invitation to work together, it might not have been necessary for me to request the Home Office grant. Instead, the council has spent around £25,000 from its own budget, on its own consultation, which was neither needed nor authorised to be done by them. It is Police and Crime Commissioners who have been asked to undertake this work by the Government.
I have the greatest respect for our fire and rescue service which works very closely with the police and with my office on a number of excellent safety initiatives but it’s important the service is given proper scrutiny and oversight. The public deserve to know what is being spent on fire safety and how our service compares to similar areas.
The work I have commissioned is already suggesting some exciting opportunities for further collaboration. My concern is that these might be lost because the council will reject them without even considering the evidence.
As I have stated many times, I will keep a completely open mind until the work is finished and if I decide to move forwards with any further collaboration proposals I will consult with all relevant bodies, including the public. I will only act if I am convinced any change would provide more effective emergency services to people in Gloucestershire.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire"