Home Office to take control of fire service as part of efficiency drive

22 December 2015

The UK fire service is to come under the remit of the Home Office from next year as part of plans to streamline management of emergency services.

Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed the move from next year, which will be part of changes expected to make it easier for the police and fire services to share back office functions and streamline management, among other benefits.

“From my experience, fire has the same problems as policing in terms of poor procurement, ICT and management of buildings. I’d like to bring the same collaborative approach we’re seeing in policing to fire services,” May told the Financial Times.

The move follows the launch of a government consultation in September aimed at transforming the way the police, fire service and ambulance service work together.

It proposed a number of measures, including allowing police and crime commissioners to take on the duties and responsibilities of fire and rescue authorities to create a single employer for police and fire staff.

It said: “Enabling police and crime commissioners [PCCs] to take over governance of fire and rescue services would allow them to make valuable reforms and improve joint working with the police service. However, greater gains could be made through the integration of back office functions such as estates, HR and IT which support the two services.”

The consultation, which closed in October, also proposed introducing a new statutory duty on all three emergency services to look at opportunities to work together to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Improving joint working between PCCs and NHS ambulance foundation trusts, by encouraging trusts to consider PCC representation on their council of governors, is also suggested.

The government is also examining the idea of abolishing the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and giving the Mayor of London direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service in London.

Policing and firefighting will remain separate operationally and funding will also remain separate.

A review of the fire and rescue service by Sir Ken Knight in 2013 said that merging it with other emergency services could result in savings of £196 million a year.

It has also been noted that the number of fire incidents has been decreasing while the demand on ambulances is going up.

The government has already spent £70 million on projects trialling collaboration of emergency services.

In Nottinghamshire, the police, fire and ambulance services have been operating a programme which includes shared delivery of training, fleet and logistics, co-location of premises and is expected to save the police £21 million and the fire service £2 million over four years.

In Hampshire, the police and fire and rescue services are developing a shared HQ, a strategic command centre, co-located stations and shared training facilities, which is expected to deliver annual savings for both services of around £1 million.

However, the Fire Brigades Union called the proposals to bring fire and rescue services under the control of PCCs “stupid and dangerous”.

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