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 on 8 May 2016. The Policing and Crime Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, will give PCCs the chance to take over the governance of their local fire and rescue services, or even merge their local police force and fire and rescue service. 

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. 

Two models being considered

The first possible model is where the PCC takes on the governance of the 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.

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.

Home secretary's final decision

The process for adopting either model would be done via the PCC submitting a proposal to the home secretary following consultation with top-tier local authorities and local people. If the local authorities oppose the plans, it will be up to the home secretary to decide on whether it goes ahead. What if councils are happy with the governance model but not the single-employer but the PCC wishes to press ahead with the latter model? How will the PCC as the new FRA interact with the councils who previously held responsibility for fire and rescue services? 

Local services under one mayor

At a time when local services are being brought together in city regions under one elected mayor, two emergency services may be brought together under someone with different geographical boundaries and a number of disparate local authorities within their area, perhaps some including city regions as well as other areas.

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

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