will blue light integration get the green light?


By Alison Dewhirst, CIPFA Police Network Advisor

The Government introduced Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in November 2012 and are now, just over a year into the PCC’s first term of office, planning to expand their role further.

Some, such as the think-tank Policy Exchange in their Power Down report last summer, would argue for a slow steady decentralisation of power to PCCs. This would include a greater role in the accountability of local criminal justice services, with maybe blue-light collaboration or integration following later.

However, there are others who favour collaboration (or even integration) with other blue light services first as this would provide more synergies and value for money. This view is gathering steam and is bolstered by Sir Ken Knight’s report, which said that local Fire and Rescue Services could not deliver the necessary reforms by themselves. The Government’s response to this report is expected soon.

The financial imperative therefore pushes more towards blue light collaboration, which is already being explored by many areas of the country. In his speech to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners on 21 January, Policing Minister Damian Green referred to examples of collaboration between emergency services, which are already bringing response times down and providing better cover and value for money. But what does collaboration or even integration mean for governance of emergency services? Is this the best fit for the police service in all areas and how do we make it work?

Vital to all transformation in local public services is commitment from the top of the organisation and the collective will to make it work. It may well be that the financial imperative of collaborating to save money (and access to the Police Innovation Fund) acts as a catalyst and enables change on a greater scale and at a faster pace than could otherwise be achieved.

In such circumstances much will come down to practical questions of interoperability. These are likely to include joint use of ICT systems and control rooms, co-terminosity of boundaries, opportunities for co-location of response vehicles and buildings, rationalisation of estates to save money, methods of deployment (i.e. whether deployed from buildings or using a hub and spoke model) and convergence in prevention work. In terms of staffing, especially if integration is an option, there are shift patterns of officers and frontline staff members to consider, potential changes to terms and conditions, achieving optimum staffing levels, ensuring the right levels of skills and training and gaining support of the unions and staff associations.

There are also governance and finance factors to be taken into account. If we are looking at integration, are chief fire officers to become corporations sole, accountable to the PCC as chief constables are, which would make them a separate legal entity? Or would they be subsumed into the structure somehow to avoid the need for a third legal entity and further complication to governance and accounting issues? How they are defined in legislation will fundamentally affect the balance of power between those involved, their working relationships, and governance and accounting arrangements. Such arrangements need to be as streamlined as possible if we are to gain the full benefits of any integration.  Interoperability and the sharing of boundaries with the Ambulance Service is likely to be more problematic and it is possibly expected that work with the Ambulance Service will be more collaboration rather than integration.

It could be argued that policing has already undergone the most radical transformation of accountability arrangements and that, in adding an additional agency to the mix, there is a model to follow. We must be careful to learn the lessons from police reform so far before embarking on such a radical change as integration and ensuring that the necessary legislation is carefully thought out and addresses all of the relevant issues. In the meantime more collaboration is likely on a voluntary basis and we watch this space with interest.

  • The above themes were explored in more detail at the CIPFA Police Conference 2014: The Future of Policing - a Fresh Perspective, 5 March 2014, London

Alison Dewhirst, Police & Fire Associate Advisor

Alison Dewhirst, Police & Fire Associate Advisor

Alison has worked in and for policing for over 30 years since her first days as a researcher for City of London Police. Alison is passionate about the practical aspects of policy implementation, analysing how initiatives fit together in the bigger picture of policing as a whole.

During her 21 years working as the Police Advisor for CIPFA, she endeavoured to examine these issues and to share good practice being developed by forces and consider their application to other areas, through the CIPFA Police and Fire Network. More recently, she was also involved in the establishment and running of the Achieving Financial Excellence in Policing (AFEP) programme.

Alison was involved in the financial and governance aspects of police reform, including the introduction of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in 2012 and legislation to allow PCCs to take on the governance of fire and rescue services in 2017. Alison has worked closely with the Home Office, HMICFRS, National Audit Office and Audit Wales over many years. Since leaving CIPFA in December 2021, Alison undertakes consultancy projects in policing and is a police and fire associate advisor for CIPFA.

Alison has an Honours degree in Economics from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and a Master’s degree in Politics (public policy) from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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