Police & Crime Panel Reject Commissioner’s Fire Plans

Watchdog body the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel is concerned about its capacity to hold North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner to account if proposed changes to how the county’s Fire and Rescue Service are governed go ahead.

In a public consultation that runs until 22 September, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Julia Mulligan proposes that the current fire and rescue watchdog, the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority (NYFRA), be scrapped and the PCC take on oversight of the county’s fire and rescue service as well as policing performance.

If this were to happen, the Police and Crime Panel, which comprises councillors from the district councils, North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council and community members, would have to take on additional responsibility to provide checks and balances to the PCC’s performance in these areas.

Councillor Ashley Mason, joint Vice Chair of the Panel and a City of York Councillor, said:

The Home Office has made it clear that they are not looking to extend our powers, or the resources at our disposal to be able to do a much bigger job effectively. Panels are often told to focus instead on building a good working relationship with the PCC and their office to be able to do our job effectively. We constantly strive towards this in North Yorkshire.

But panel members have serious concerns that if the fire authority is scrapped and the responsibility for scrutiny falls solely on the panel, there is really no accountable body with any great weight behind it to ensure that the PCC is doing all she should for our police and fire services.

Cllr Mason says the current NYFRA has built up expertise around fire and rescue services which, under the proposals, would be lost.

The Police and Crime Panel has recently increased its number of meetings from five to seven or eight a year to ensure adequate time is given not only to statutory duties, such as reviewing the PCC’s Police and Crime Plan, but also to making sure there is sufficient support and challenge on other areas of performance.

Councillor Peter Wilkinson, joint Vice Chair of the Panel and a Hambleton District Councillor, added:

We expect to have to almost double the amount of time and resource that we put in if we take on the role of scrutiny over fire and rescue, too. This will have significant implications for all panel members and those who provide support to us. We raised concerns with the PCC earlier this year about the risks of scrutiny being diluted as a result, but our concerns seem to have been somewhat underplayed in the business case that the PCC has put out to the public. We will need to give careful consideration to the PCC’s proposal and what it would mean for us as a scrutiny body at our meeting in September.

We would encourage residents to take part in the public consultation, which closes on 22 September.

The public survey can be accessed at www.telljulia.com.

The panel will meet on 14 September at 11.30am at County Hall, Northallerton, to consider the PCC’s business case in detail. Panel meetings are open to members of the public.