County Council ‘No’ To Fire Commissioner

North Yorkshire County Council’s Executive has rejected calls for the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner to take over responsibility for the fire service, calling instead for a ‘stepped approach’ to changes to the way in which North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is overseen and held to account.

The Executive was responding to a consultation by North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan on her business case for accelerating the pace of collaboration between the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service.

Her preferred option is for the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to take on responsibility for the Fire and Rescue Service and for the Fire and Rescue Authority, a body of 16 councillors representing City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council, which currently oversees the Fire and Rescue Service, to cease to exist.

After listening to representations from the PCC and the Fire and Rescue Authority, the county councils Executive have agreed to favour a “representation model”, which would see the Police and Crime Commisioner become the 17th member of the Fire and Rescue Authority. This would also enable the PCC to sit on a collaboration committee, a sub-committee of just two people created by the Fire and Rescue Authority to agree collaboration between the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service.

The PCC’s public consultation, which can be found at www.telljulia.com, ends on 22 September, the county council say that there was a request from the PCC that the Executive defer a response until after that date, but as a statutory consultee the authority felt it was important to take a lead.

The Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Cllr Carl Les, said:

“I would like to think that this council is a responsive council. It is a council that listens. However, at times it also has to lead and this is such an occasion.

At all the parish council meetings I have attended since this issue was raised, I have been asked for my opinion and to help people to understand the issues.

The reason we support the representation model is that is it a stepped approach. It maintains the experience and collective wisdom of the elected councillors who represent communities across North Yorkshire. However, it does not preclude further changes should they prove necessary.”

Cllr Les urged the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Fire and Rescue Authority to work to see what they could achieve together to meet the financial challenges facing the Fire and Rescue Service.

He said the views of district councils which are currently considering the PCC’s proposals would be taken into account in the detail of the County Council’s response, along with public opinion expressed through the consultation and elsewhere.

The County Council say their response will form part of any submission by the PCC to the Home Office after the conclusion of the consultation.

IN DEPTH : HOW A CHANGE IN THE LAW ALLOWS FOR THE POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER TO TAKE ON OVERSIGHT OF THE FIRE SERVICE
The Policing and Crime Act 2017 places a duty on police, fire and ambulance services to work together and enables police and crime commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made.

The options that are specified in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to enable greater collaboration between blue light services to improve emergency services are as follows:

  • The status quo or the ‘do nothing’ option
  • The Representation Model – the Police and Crime Commissioner is represented on the Fire Authority and its committees
  • The Governance Model – the Police and Crime Commissioner to take on legal and overarching responsibility for the Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire and Rescue Authority ceases to exist as a governing body
  • The Single Employer Model – the functions of the Fire and Rescue Service would be transferred to a single Chief Officer for policing and fire and rescue.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire has undertaken a review of the governance of the Fire and Rescue Service and proposed changes that are aimed at promoting improved collaboration between the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service. In turn, it is suggested that this will lead to greater efficiencies, improved outcomes and increased investment in front-line services.

The preferred option for the Police and Crime Commissioner is that the Governance Model is adopted, whereby the Police and Crime Commissioner takes on legal and overarching responsibility for the Fire and Rescue Service and that the Fire and Rescue Authority would cease to exist as a governing body.

The Fire and Rescue Authority was established in April 1996 and it has specific responsibilities in directing and monitoring the role of the Fire Service. The Authority is made up of 16 elected councillors representing the City of York and North Yorkshire County.

WHY MERGE THE OVERSIGHT OF THE POLICE AND FIRE SERVICES
Speaking to Yorkshire Coast Radio in early August North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner – Julia Mulligan – explained how she believes that in bringing the oversight of North Yorkshire Police and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service together, collaboration between the two services will increase. Julia claims that this will improve the efficiency of both organisations, join up and enhance community safety, better support vulnerable people, improve transparency, and save money that can be reinvested into frontline services.

In response to the new legislation, Julia has developed a vision of what could be achieved if both services were governed under the same body.

She said:

“I believe that there are some real opportunities to improve the service to the public, especially the most vulnerable, and at the same time save tax-payers’ money and bolster and protect our frontline services.

Let’s be clear, this is not a merger. The two services will remain separate—police officers and fire officers will still have their own distinct roles, and budgets will always be kept separate. But by bringing both organisations under the same governance, we can improve things for everyone.

Here in North Yorkshire, we have some good examples of working together where the police and fire services join up to prevent harm, helping to protect vulnerable people, and improve community safety. But just a few examples are not enough. There is much more that we could, and should, be doing.

One way to do this would be by re-investing money into our frontline services that we will save by sharing governance and working better together. Saving money elsewhere is how I have been able to increase frontline numbers over the last few years, and this will be no different. For a start, I would explore the opportunities of a truly joint plan for sharing police and fire stations at more than 20 sites across the county where they are already close together, including our Headquarters.”

North Yorkshire Police recently relocated its headquarters to Northallerton’s Alverton Court, a move that will save approximately £10 million compared to other proposals.

Julia added:

“Bringing our fire and police headquarters together into one place could further save up to £250,000 of tax-payers’ money per year. It’s firefighters and police officers that save lives, not buildings. But sharing buildings isn’t just about saving money. By bringing the two chief officer teams together, it would make it easier to develop a shared vision for a joint community safety plan for North Yorkshire, and oversight would be easier too, speeding up the scale and pace of change.

Change is something we must embrace. All our public services are facing financial pressures, so it is vital we pull together, pool our sovereignty and put the public first, who quite rightly expect us to seize every opportunity to protect frontline services.”

Julia is encouraging people across the county to visit www.telljulia.com to contribute to the 10-week public consultation.