Staffordshire Police merger would ‘undermine fire service’ say union

Controversial plans to merge Staffordshire’s police and fire services has been criticised by the Fire Brigades Union as they moved a step closer.

Rich Williams, FBU chairman for Staffordshire, has opposed the extra influence Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis would have over the fire service.

He also claimed trust in firefighters would be undermined.

The remarks comes on the back of a report titled ‘Is there a case for full integration?’, which was released last week stating the move would save £5.4 million a year and could feasibly happen as early as April.

Mr Williams said: “There is virtually no support for PCCs and certainly none to enable them to take over the fire and rescue service.

“Such a move risks undermining public confidence in the accountability and governance of our emergency services.

“PCCs pose an intrinsic threat to the independence and effectiveness of the fire and rescue service.

“Although the emergency services work together effectively at many incidents, there is no operational reason for police and fire services to merge.

“Police officers and firefighters perform very different roles. Police officers have the power of arrest whereas firefighters do not.

“This distinction is an important aspect of firefighters’ relations with local communities.

“The worry for firefighters is mergers will undermine the public’s trust in the impartiality of the fire service, which they rely upon to gain access to people’s homes for vital fire prevention and emergency rescue work.”

Mr Ellis disagreed with the union’s comments and said he was in favour of the merger.

“The recommended changes retain the identities and specialisms of each of the two services,” he said.

“They reduce heavy management structures to allow extra investment in the frontline operations and would provide cost effective, resilient support functions for policing and fire.”

“It details significant opportunities to make the most of the crossovers between the two services so they work more effectively together to make our communities safer across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

“What strikes me with this detailed report is that even if budgets were not tight it would be impossible to justify not doing something to address the duplication in support functions.”