Mergers: new directions for blue light services


By Alison Dewhirst, CIPFA Police Network advisor

The final results of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections were announced recently. A number of existing PCCs who wanted to integrate their local police force with their local fire and rescue service have retained their posts and are likely to take up the government’s proposals when the Policing and Crime Bill receives royal assent, anticipated for early next year. New PCCs may also wish to do so, though they would be wise to investigate all local collaboration options to find the one most beneficial for their police area.

PCCs in different areas may take different approaches and adopt different models, and the resulting picture across England is likely to be quite complex. Against the backdrop of increased localism and devolution to city regions, the government is proposing two models that PCCs may wish to adopt for police and fire and rescue services. 

The first is where the PCC takes on the governance of their local fire and rescue service, abolishing the fire and rescue authority (FRA) with the PCC becoming the new FRA. In this model, the two services themselves remain separate but presumably collaborate on issues, bearing in mind their new statutory duty in the Bill to keep under consideration collaboration with the other emergency services.

The second model is where the PCC takes on the governance of the fire and rescue service, becomes the FRA, and the police and fire services are merged into a single employer with a chief officer, who reports to the PCC. Of course, the PCC may adopt neither model and may instead be a member of an existing FRA. In London, the picture is simpler. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority will be replaced by a new London Fire Commissioner, held to account by the Mayor of London (via a deputy). The two police and fire and rescue services will be kept separate.

But how will the different models set out in the Bill work in practice and what are the finance, governance, strategic and transformational issues in adopting them? 

And do PCCs really need to go for the second model if they feel that most of the collaboration benefits can be gained from the governance model without the upheaval of reorganisation? 

It may depend in part on the anticipated marginal benefit to be gained from bringing the organisations together compared to the anticipated marginal cost of doing so, but is just as likely to be driven by political considerations. A number of PCCs are considering the option of the single-employer model, which at the moment seems to be the preferred model.

What is certain is that the government is shaking up the whole landscape of local public services in the drive for local flexibility and transformation. But which models will win out at the end, and which will transform local blue light services most for local people?

Discover more

  • To explore more the implications of mergers in the police, fire and rescue services attend the CIPFA Police and Fire Integration Conference on 7 July in London. Subtitled the 'Integrating Police and Fire and Rescue Services: Finance and Governance Issues' it is idea for all those involved or interested in the future of the blue services.
  • For ongoing insight, guidance and help, join the CIPFA Police Network.