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Jamieson could take control of fire as well as police under Government plans

Jamieson could take control of fire as well as police under Government plans

🕔06.Jan 2016

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson could take control of fire services on top of his other duties if he is re-elected next year, it has been confirmed.

Under a radical move being pushed through by the Government, responsibility for overseeing fire services in England and Wales will pass from the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Home Office.

The change is part of a plan to make fire and police services work more closely together and the Government has made it clear it wants the country’s elected police commissioners to take responsibility for their local fire services as well as overseeing the police.

Ministers insist the scheme will deliver improved and more joined-up emergency services as well as reducing costs by amalgamating back office administrative functions.

Historically, police and fire services have been fiercely independent organisations. The proposal is being opposed by the Fire Brigade Union which called it “half baked” and said there was no public support for amalgamating police and fire services.

Matters are further complicated in the West Midlands by the election in 2017 of a metro mayor.

In theory the mayor could take control of police and fire under provisions in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, but if Mr Jamieson is re-elected next year his term of office won’t finish until 2020 raising difficult questions about the roles of two highly paid elected politicians.

Following confusion over the future of the West Midlands police commissioner the Government announced before Christmas that the PCC election will still take place in May 2016. It remains unclear whether the commissioner will take control of fire services or even if he will serve a full four-year term or stand down when a metro mayor is elected.

It is also possible that Mr Jamieson may become deputy metro mayor and assume responsibility for fire services as well as the police.

Police minister Mike Penning told MPs that discussions to sort out “an appropriate relationship between the functions of a mayor and future role of the police and crime commissioners including in relation to fire services” were taking place and a business case would be developed jointly by the PCC and council leaders, and in consultation with the fire authorities.

It’s now been confirmed that Mr Penning, who is a former firefighter, will take on a new portfolio as minister for policing, fire, criminal justice and victims. He said.

This is about smarter working, reducing the cost of back office functions and freeing up the time of frontline staff.

Mr Penning said closer collaboration between the police, fire and rescue services would deliver “significant savings and benefits for the public”. He added:

This move will have benefits for both services. Fire authorities can learn from the journey that police forces have undertaken on reform over the last five years. Equally, the success of fire and rescue services in prevention holds important lessons for the police.

The Home Office said the response across the country to recent flooding showed “how well the police and fire service already worked together”.

Under government plans consulted on last year, police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will be able to take control of fire services in their area.

The elected officials will be able to put in place a single “employer”, led by a senior officer in charge of hiring all local fire and police personnel.

The new strategy could lead to arrangements such as sharing back office functions – although the government insists they will remain operationally independent.

Fire Brigade Union general secretary Matt Wrack described the proposal as a “half-baked suggestion” and accused “one or two” PCCs supporting the plan of “empire building”.

There was no support for the plans among firefighters, police officers or local communities, “and yet the Government seems to be intent on forcing it though”, he said.

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