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Malthouse steps in to halt PCC's fire authorities take over

Demands to bring two fire authorities under the control of a police and crime commissioner have been delayed by the government. Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said West Mercia’s PCC would have to wait until after next year’s elections.

The battle for control of Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) and the Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has been halted by the minister despite the demand from West Mercia PCC John Campion.

Mr Campion had argued that the merger, which would keep their separate identities would save a minimum of £30.6m through changes including shared IT, premises and reduced governance costs.

He argued for the changed based on the Policing and Crime Act 2017 which places a statutory obligation on emergency services to collaborate and enables Police and Crime Commissioners
(PCCs) to take on responsibilities for fire and rescue services in their area.

The PCC first set out the proposals in a business case for joint governance in 2017. This was challenged by both fire authorities, backed up by Cambridgeshire’s fire service, in two judicial reviews in the High Court. The first verdict in July last year said the decision by the PCC was lawful but this was challenged again and the action was put on hold for the Home Office to consider.

Police Minister Kit Malthouse has effectively kicked the issue into the long grass by delaying a decision until after the PCC elections in May next year. The minister said a critical issue in the decision had been responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

His letter said: “It is right that, given the passage of time, we take stock of any significant developments that may affect the business case and reconsider whether the proposal is still in the interests of the statutory tests.”

The minister added the government remained committed to the reform.

Mr Campion will now have to make it a campaign issue should he stand for re-election next year.

He said: “I fully accept, understand and support the Minister’s decision at this time. However, it remains the case that joint governance would benefit our local communities and emergency services. The public is right to demand the best possible police and fire services, with the maximum amount of resource focused on the frontline. As such, I will revisit delivering this for our communities.”

The Fire Authorities welcomed the government’s decision and urged Mr Campion to rethink.

Cllr Roger Phillips, Chairman of Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Authority, said: “We believe that the existing arrangements form a tried and trusted system which is to the benefit of the Service and to the communities which it serves.

He added: “I hope the PCC will take the opportunity over the next few months to fully engage with the Fire Authorities, so that any final proposals are both transparent and take on board the need for maintaining both the capacity and resilience of the two Fire Services to protect their local communities – now and in the future – as opposed to just focusing on theoretical ways to save money that could actually have a detrimental impact on the quality of the services they deliver.”

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